USF students try living below poverty line

Stephanie Martell usually shops at Whole Foods or Publix.

Yet this week, she went to Aldi Supermarket and Save-A-Lot, where she filled her shopping cart with a six-pack of ramen noodles, pasta, bananas and eggs. Martell, a senior majoring in environmental science, adopted new shopping habits in an effort to live on no more than $7.50 for five days. Her action is part of the Live Below the Line campaign, which was started by the Global Poverty Project in 2008 and challenges participants to live in extreme poverty.

The extreme poverty line was defined as $1.25 in 2005 by the World Bank and is now considered $1.50 to account for inflation. The campaign, which has spread to the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the U.S., has since asked students to live on that much per day for a five-day period.

Martell said the experience has taught her how far a few dollars can stretch.

I was really surprised at how much I got (for under $7.50) she said. This experience will definitely change my spending habits in the long run.

Robyn Sagal, a senior majoring in sociology and public health, began the Live Below the Line Campaign at USF for the first time, where it began Monday and ends Friday. The national challenge will span from May 7 to May 11.

Sagal said those students who pledge to live below the line also raise money for the truly impoverished after creating a profile at Participants list an amount of sponsorship money they wish to raise and donate to one of seven different charities and aid organizations, such as UNICEF, Shot at Life and the Rainforest Project.

Sagal said she was inspired to bring the challenge to USF after spending a semester at the University of Tanzania through an exchange program.

There is no way to really grasp what these people have to go through without going through it yourself, Sagal said. Even then, we get to keep certain luxuries like our cars and apartments.

Since entering her pledge online last month, Sagal said she has raised $537 for UNICEF by collecting donations from her family, friends and Kaleisia Tea Lounge, which sponsored her. She said the first day wasnt too difficult because she was excited for the event, but things got progressively tougher.

I had two hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and packed a peanut butter sandwich for lunch with a very small bag of oyster crackers, she said. I had to make that last until 9 p.m. because I went straight from class in the morning to work. I was very tired throughout the day and constantly had food on my mind. The day felt like it dragged on longer than usual, but that is just because I was looking forward to going home and eating my ramen noodles.

Sagal recruited Martell and 10 other USF students and Tampa residents to take the challenge, which Sagal is also using to satisfy part of her thesis requirement for the Honors College. In addition to making donations to Live Below the Line, she recruited local business owners to donate prizes to USFs top fundraisers, including a spa day at SerenBe Day Spa and tickets for the Morean Arts Center, Tampa Museum of Art and Skippers Smokehouse.

Tyler Staggs, a senior majoring in studio art and a participant, said he headed to the checkout line this week with a cart containing only peanut butter, crackers, rice and bread. He said the experience has shown him the lavishness of the average Americans lifestyle.

I think after this challenge is over, Ill really appreciate the small things that so many of us take for granted, Staggs said. Things like soda and eating out at a restaurant are luxuries for people living on $1.50 a day.

Justine Lucas, the U.S. campaign manager, said the project has raised $2 million since 2010 and garnered the support of 10,000 participants globally. This year, Lucas said she hopes the campaign can attract 3,000 people in the U.S and raise half a million dollars nationally.

(Internationally), 1.4 billion people live on less than a $1.50 a day and that has to cover a lot more than just food and water, she said. Our mission is to see a world without extreme poverty within our generation.