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$5 a day diet leaves mark on local leaders

Friday - 2/8/2013, 10:23pm  ET

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Ask Montgomery County Councilman Craig Rice what's in that brown bag he's carrying and he'll tell you: Baked beans, an apple and a boiled egg.

"I'm saving the four spears of asparagus I have left for dinner," he says.

Rice is among a group of county officials and residents finishing their fifth and final day of the SNAP Challenge. Participants limited themselves to eating on $5 a day for five days, roughly the same amount granted to people participating in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which used to be known as food stamps.

The local challenge was organized by Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin.

"It's very socially isolating," she says. The five-day exercise meant turning down dinner invitations and staying out of the County Council building's cafeteria so she wouldn't feel tempted to break down and stray from her own brown bag lunches.

Rice says he found that he was hungry, and he missed the cafeteria's Peruvian chicken, or another favorite, the onion rings.

But Ervin says she wasn't really hungry. "Except for the day I went to Annapolis and I didn't prepare."

She didn't pack a lunch. All she had was an apple. "So I really got a hunger headache."

Ervin says the experience has been profound for her, especially when she thinks about children who are hungry.

About 34 percent of the county's 149,000 students are eligible for free and reduced meals, an indicator of both hunger and poverty.

"I started to think about food 24 hours a day. How do little kids do this? How do little children go to their school and sit at their desks? They're supposed to be concentrating on what the teacher says and all they can think about is: What's for lunch?" she says.

Ervin says she organized the five-day effort to spotlight the number of hungry people in Montgomery County and to help public officials keep that in mind as they shape public policy.

According to Ervin's SNAP the Silence Facebook page, about 65,200 Montgomery County residents received SNAP benefits in October. For families that qualify for SNAP, the average daily benefit per person is $4.28 per day.

In the D.C. metro area, one in six residents is at risk of or is experiencing hunger - that's more than 641,000 people, according to the U.S. Census.

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WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @kateryanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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