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Higgins takes a $4.65-per-day lesson in food benefits for needy (VIDEO)Worcester County Food Bank Advocacy Director Liz Sheehan Castro, Rep. Natalie Higgins visit SAC and talk about SNAP (Food Stamps)

State Rep. Natalie Higgins looks over the types of food the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program makes available to low-income individuals during a

State Rep. Natalie Higgins looks over the types of food the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program makes available to low-income individuals during a visit to the Leominster Spanish American Center on Thursday. The Leominster Democrat has spent this week living on SNAP’s daily $4.65 meal allowance. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

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LEOMINSTER — As she reached the final stretch of a challenge to live off just $4.65 of food per day, state Rep. Natalie Higgins said she was experiencing fatigue, weight loss and a mounting craving for the iced coffee she’s been going without the last few days.

“I’ve had this awful headache and fuzziness for three days,” she said. “Alertness is not great. We went into session until 7:30 last night and I was not on my A-game for that.”

Higgins’ new diet routine has been part of a weeklong challenge from the Worcester County Food Bank and Greater Boston Food Bank for legislators to live within the same financial restrictions as people buying food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also referred to as SNAP, but more commonly known as food stamps.

“I want the larger community to know the struggles of people on SNAP benefits and to not stigmatize it,” said state Rep. Natalie Higgins, left, who is spending this week on $4.65 of food per day. She’s joined by Liz Sheehan Castro, center, Worcester County Food Bank director of advocacy, and Spanish American Center Director Neddy Latimer at the center Thursday. See video and slide show at sentinelandenterprise.com. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

Since Monday, Higgins has eaten a breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter, and a piece of fruit; a lunch of lentil soup and a dinner consisting of black beans and rice with frozen vegetables.

“I want the larger community to know the struggles of people on SNAP benefits and to not stigmatize it,” she said. “But the whole point of the SNAP challenge is that you fail. You cannot eat nutritious, whole meals on just these benefits.”

In conversations she’s had with other participating state legislators, Higgins said she’s heard how they’ve also been struggling. One, a parent of three children, has had to start purchasing sugary breakfast cereal because that’s the only thing affordable.

Another, who relies almost exclusively on eating takeout, has been having a hard time preparing meals with such limited ingredients.

Higgins has been working to maintain her vegan diet and has been getting tips and suggestions from constituents who have had to subsist off the SNAP program, she said.

While the need to expand resources to people with food insecurity has been a priority for advocates in the past, Worcester County Food Bank Advocacy Director Liz Sheehan Castro said the current challenge was inspired by language in the attempted 2018 reauthorization of the U.S. Farm Bill, which covers SNAP policy.

The reauthorization would have cut over $20 billion from the SNAP program over 10 years and forced work requirements on its recipients. The bill, which was moving through the U.S. House of Representatives, died on the floor in a 198-213 vote in late May when 30 Republicans voted with Democrats.

“They were looking for cost savings and program efficiencies, but the way they went about it was looking at who would be eligible and how much in benefits they could receive,” said Sheehan Castro about the bill.

She joined Higgins and the staff of the Spanish American Center on Thursday to discuss SNAP but also the levels of food insecurity in this region. Because SNAP benefits don’t really provide enough money to feed families, many are given food from the center’s food pantry. And this number has increased following the recent influx of residents from Puerto Rico and immigrants from Latin American countries.

A total 180 households, representing a total 541 individuals, came to the Spanish American Center for food assistance last month, which according to center staff, represents an increase of 315 percent over last May.

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 Welcome to the Leominster Spanish-American Center’s web page!

 The Center is a non-profit social service agency in Leominster, Massachusetts, a city of diverse ethnic and linguistic traditions. The Leominster Spanish-American Center is a registered, tax exempt 501 (c) (3) agency. We receive funding through your private donations,  foundation grants, some government programs such as Central Mass Agency on Aging (CMAA), Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH),  CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) and some funding through your donations via The United Way Of North Central Massachusetts.

SAC Sign 112 Spruce Street

     Our vision is that every person would live in a safe, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous community in order to enjoy the full benefits of our society.

    Our mission is to respond to the social, health, educational and cultural needs of the Leominster community and surrounding areas with special focus on the Hispanic /Latino community, limited by language, poverty and access. We foster economic self-sufficiency, equal opportunity, and active participation in community related activities for better quality of life.

The Spanish-American Center is committed to providing assistance to Spanish-speaking residents to overcome language barriers, promoting the development of our young people, fostering community involvement and leadership; increasing relationships with partners, and connecting clients to available community services, which represent and advocate for the community.

In keeping with Latino traditions and being mindful of the historical principles of American democracy, the Spanish American Center adheres to the values of inclusion, and acceptance and embracing one another in collaboration and celebration of hope for a more prosperous future.

 Our programs: include (ESL) English as a Second Language classes, our Leominster community food pantry, summer meal programs for children in Leominster, Fitchburg and Gardner, elder programs, legal clinics, domestic violence intervention, after school programs for middle and high school students, advocacy, and occasional mobile consulates for our Uruguayan-American community. In addition, the Center has begun  providing hot meals two nights per week, a free breakfast cafe in both Leominster and Fitchburg which are prepared at the Center at the memorial David Higgins Cocina, our fully functional industrial-grade kitchen and activity center.

The Leominster Spanish-American Center has been providing services and care to the people of the greater-Leominster Community for Over Fifty Years! Click here to learn more.

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Spanish American Center’s policy on inclusion and non-discrimination HERE.