Special Report: Running on Empty - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Special Report: Running on Empty

MADISON (WKOW) -- Imagine losing your job and suddenly having to make the choice between your family's next meal or the rent payment.

That is an all too real scenario for close to one million families in Wisconsin.

The Goeppingers' of Madison found that out just a few years ago. 

"At that point, it was just savings and we knew that it wasn't going to cut it," said Olga Keeping, whose husband Zachary lost his job when she was on maternity leave with their son, Gavin.

"When you're a parent and you need to take care of your family, you lose sight of what might be embarrassing and I did what I did, looking out for my family," said Olga.

Olga enrolled in Wisconsin's Food Share program.

She's not alone.

At the end of 2007, only 7 percent of Wisconsinites received Food Share benefits.

By the end of 2011, that number had jumped to 15 percent.

In Dane County, the number of Food Share recipients has nearly doubled since 2007, to over 42,000 residents.

The numbers in Wisconsin as a whole have more than doubled, to over 838,000.

But, the average state recipient gets just $3.87 per day in assistance.

Most people live on more than that, but I tried to stick to that daily average for five days.

I knew if I was going to make it, I would have to eat far more sparingly than I normally do, and eat a lot of cheap food.

Cheap meant a lot of processed food.

Breakfast on day one was as processed as it gets:  A can of Diet Pepsi and a Honey Bun.

Lunch was sparse:  A grilled turkey and cheese sandwich with a glass of water.

Dinner was frozen burritos with a slice of cheese.

Add a granola bar and can of soda for a late snack and day one was kept to just $3.36.

No sweat right?

Day two started with low-fat cereal and light soy milk.

So that breakfast, while a lot healthier than the breakfast I ate on day one, it cost me $1.32.

That didn't leave me with much left for lunch and dinner.

By that afternoon, after another sandwich for lunch, I was already longing for a snack from the WKOW vending machines I use on an almost daily basis.

Still, through three days, I managed to stay under that magic $3.87.

But after feeling like I might faint on the third night, I simply broke on day four.

Lunch that day was a restaurant-style Bacon Cheeseburger with Fries.

At over eight dollars, it was a complete blowout of the budget.

I was never so glad to fail at something.

Its important to note that on one enrolled in Food Share truly lives on that average of less than four dollars per day.

Its meant to be a supplement for low-income people like the Goeppingers once were.

Olga said no one should be embarrassed to use it, especially if there's nowhere else to turn.

"I never considered myself to be one of the people to use those services, but I'm a taxpayer and that's one of the services I pay my taxes for," said Olga.

Even though there are more people on the Food Share program than ever before, there are still even more that could be.

Second Harvest Food Bank estimates that in Dane, Rock and Green counties combined, there are some 27,000 people who are eligible for Food Share that have not applied for benefits.

If you're interested in seeing if you qualify for Food Share, click here.

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