Staff Take the ALICE Awareness Week Lived Experience Challenge

This year ALICE Awareness Week is happening Nov 26-Dec 3, 2022. We take a week each fall to spotlight the members of our community known as ALICE (Asset Limites, Income Constrained, Employed). Our Awareness Week is just 7 days but ALICE struggles to get by every day of the year. (Get more details here -

These hard-working families make more than the federal poverty level but are still struggling to make ends meet. The recession, rising inflation, and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic have all left many families finding themselves in need of assistance for the very first time. Our Valley Assistance Network (VAN) program has seen a 70% increase in requests for assistance over 2021.

In an effort to raise visibility and contributions for our ALICE Emergency Fund, our very own Kaycee Childress (President/CEO) and Jenna DeHaven (Director of Advancement) accepted a lived experience ALICE challenge. Here are their stories:

Kaycee fed her family on a budget of $5 per person, per day


I accepted the 2022 ALICE Awareness Week Challenge from the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley. The purpose is to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes… someone who is struggling just to make ends meet. My family and I chose the $5/day/person food challenge for my husband, myself and our 8,13 and 17 year old kiddos…and boy is it eye opening.

We started off the week shopping for breakfast and lunches. Lunches are hard especially when the school is peanut free so no pb and j!

Nick braved the grocery and dollar general and was shocked that to just get some lunch meat (on sale) animal crackers, apple sauce, juice boxes and mac n cheese cups plus cereal it was almost $40. That left us with $85 for all five dinners, staples like milk and eggs and anything we run out of. That’s $17 per dinner or $3.40 per person.

What I have learned so far: the SHEER ANXIETY that my kids might be hungry has been eating away at me since I began planning for this challenge! And we get to go back to our normal lives in 6 days… what about those who don’t????

Shopping for food for a week on $125 is HARD, HARD, HARD! You look at the scratch and dent shelf in the back of the store, you buy only NEEDS not wants, you give up quality for quantity and calories to feed hungry bellies!

Most of the food you can afford on this budget is what I would call edible nonfood. It is packed with calories and carbs and sugar but has very little nutritional value! Want chicken and broccoli? Think again that’s too expensive… frozen dollar pizzas it is!

I and my family are truly blessed. On any given day I don’t have to navigate this gauntlet. On any given day I am not worried about my children going hungry or not getting the nutrition that they need.

I encourage you to try it! The experience is humbling and eye opening. Walk a mile folks….

And please if you are so inclined, please donate to our ALICE EMERGENCY FUND so we can help families in crisis!



Update on our 2022 ALICE Awareness Week with the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley;

Dinner last night was Mac and cheese and hot dogs… and with the price of hot dogs that was even a stretch. 8 hotdogs and 5 people. I have to tell you I am feeling super guilty about the lack of FRESH fruits and veggies for my kids! They NEED THE NUTRITION!

So… we broke down and bought nectarines and apples on sale. I have to say dinner filled me up but I felt gross and bloated afterwards. At least the kids liked it.

My husband actually skipped dinner… we ran out of hotdogs in the pack. We ate in shifts with the kids because of afterschool activities and he ate with our 17-year-old. I guess our 17-year-old was super hungry so…Nick gave the remaining food to him and had a pb&j sandwich instead. But that was the last of the jelly and I honestly don’t know if we can afford more. Have to look at the budget.

I went to bed thinking about all the moms and dads who were going to bed on a single pb&j sandwich just to make sure their kids had full or almost full tummies. How many parents wondering if they have enough change to buy jelly before they get paid… it is eye opening and gut wrenching.

I encourage everyone to try this or try the lights out challenge or no internet challenge or some of the others. Walking a mile in the shoes of someone less blessed really changes your perspective, makes you monumentally grateful and humble.

Also PLEASE, PLEASE, GIVE TO UNITED WAY OF NORTHERN SHENANDOAH VALLEY!!! The org supports families in Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren Counties and Winchester City. It is a huge geographic area with SO, SO, MANY IN NEED.



Well, it’s Thursday and I am four days in to United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley’s 2022 ALICE Awareness Week challenge of feeding my family on $5/person/day.

The younger kids don’t fully understand why they can’t buy breakfast at school (they LOVE school breakfast) But at almost $3 it’s too expensive, so they are going without and eating discount cereal.

We needed bread last night. Made a trip to the store and bought only bread. No money for anything else and we made sure the bread was on sale.

Kids had meatloaf with mystery meat and mashed potatoes for dinner last night. They love meatloaf so that was a hit. Nick and I just had mashed potatoes since there weren’t enough meatloaf to go around and honestly, we were both fighting some bug off and just wanted comfort food. Meat is EXPENSIVE.

I find myself wondering all the tome what parent is going without food so their kids’ bellies are full. ALICE these days is your neighbors’ folks, you just don’t know. Please take a look at the United Way NSV Facebook page and read some of the stats and peoples’ stories. VERY POWERFUL!

And please donate to ALICE Awareness Week for the ALICE Emergency Fund. No one should have to decide between buying food or paying their power bill!



Update on the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley 2022 ALICE Awareness Week challenge of $5 per day per person for food. Money is TIGHT as we round out the week. The family had canned veggies and macaroni and cheese cups for dinner last night.

I was at TGI Fridays working with staff and there were very light staff appetizers so I had a few French fries, a cheese stick and a couple of small potatoes skins and it felt like a gourmet meal, albeit one that didn’t exactly fill me up. I went home and had some toast with butter and called it a night.

I am struck by the anxiety ALICE families feel as the money for food runs out… what to do until there is another paycheck. They don’t have the luxury of being at a work event that feeds them. That constant state of anxiety has got to take a huge tole on families…

Today is our last day. Tonight, we have Totinos Pizzas (on sale for a dollar a piece) and whatever vegetable we have left. Guaranteed it won’t be fresh.

So much going through my head about empty little bellies, parents sacrificing to TRY to fill them and the sadness and anxiety that goes along with that.

Please stop for a moment and give it some thought. Consider what you would do, how you would feel and what you can do to be part of the change we need to make happen.

I encourage you to take about ALICE to your friends, volunteer at food pantries, DONATE fresh heathy food to food pantries and to try this challenge for a week. It really puts one’s blessings and the challenges that over 41% of Virginia residents are facing daily into perspective.

Jenna cut off the heat in her house


I accepted the 2022 ALICE Awareness Week challenge from United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley to walk in the shoes of an ALICE family.

There’s been no heat on in my house since Saturday. ALICE struggles with housing and utilities on a nearly constant basis. Often times, deciding which utility gets used/payed for the month is a real choice ALICE makes.

According to my call this morning, the minimum cost for delivered propane is $442 (if you own the tank) or $472 (if you lease the tank). There is a payment plan option but ALICE generally doesn’t qualify for that option.

Things I don’t have: Heating. A space heater.

Things I do have: A well insulated home and a comfortable bed. Warm clothing. A fridge and pantry full of food. A stable job and a working car to get me there. No fear of not having any of those things.

To increase awareness of how our less fortunate neighbours struggle and to fundraise for the ALICE Emergency Fund that serves as a lifeline to those in need, I’m going without heat in my house for 7 days and I’m asking for donations amounting to what it would cost for a fuel delivery.

Please donate if you can. Please share this post. Please learn more about ALICE and come out to Dine United at the ALICE Awareness Week: Dining for Dollars.

Thanks much!



Day 4 of no heat for the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley 2022 ALICE Awareness Week.

It’s 53* inside my house but it’s raining outside and it feels colder to me. So I’m wearing my wool lined barn coat and drinking hot tea.

Here’s what I wear around the house and to sleep in:

Sweatpants that are surprisingly warm

Wool socks

Down camp slippers (not for sleeping)

Knit hat




Flannel button down

And, as mentioned, sometimes a wool lined barn coat…yes, indoors but not to bed.

As I sit here, in this bundle, I don’t exactly feel warm, there’s a noticeable chill but I’m not shivering. I definitely am not looking forward to getting dressed for the day. Perhaps I can wear this to the office.



Day 5 with no heat for the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley 2022 ALICE Awareness Week challenge.

Temps dropped last night and it is noticeable! My app says it’s 31* but the thermometer at my house says 26*.

It was 52* in my house when I went to bed. Took me about 3 times as long to fall asleep as usually because I couldn’t get warm or comfortable. I didn’t sleep very deeply for the same reason. Considered at one point getting up for another comforter but it was more effort than I could muster that to make the trip to the living room.

This morning it’s 48* inside my house and it was a struggle to make myself get out of bed! I’m dreading and looking forward to walking the dog (which I’m already late for) because I know it’s more cold out there but also that the walk will warm me up.

I’m worried that tonight is supposed to be colder still. At what point are my pipes in danger of freezing?

Saturday is my last day of this challenge and I will turn the heat back on that evening. It’s supposed to be not as cold but rainy which much as well be 10* colder as far as I’m concerned.

Honestly I pick this challenge because I have a preference for the cold and always have it chilly in my house. If the temps had held like they were Sunday-Tuesday, I don’t know if I’d have been too bothered. But now I am counting days and looking forward to cutting the heat back on!

Thanks for reading this far. Please ask me questions if you have any about ALICE or this challenge. Please consider donating to the ALICE Emergency Fund (fundraiser pinned to the top of my page). If you don’t yet have plans for dinner tonight, please come out to TGI Friday’s (Winchester) and support the fund. United Way staff will be there to talk about the struggles and resiliencies of our local ALICE. The restaurant will be generously donating 20% of all orders (eat in & to go) to the emergency fund!


Headed to bed and it’s already the coldest it’s been since I started the 2022 ALICE Awareness Week challenge.

Already adding a layer to the bed and to my clothes. Confirmed today that my pipes are not in danger or freezing so I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

This isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s far from easy. And maybe that’s the point. All of the challenges United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley proposed for this week’s lived experience social experiments are possible and accessible but they are difficult because they push us so far outside our normalised comfort zones and ask us to stay there for a while and adopt a new normal.

There’s power in remembering we can do hard things and grace in remembering we shouldn’t always have to, nor should our neighbours.

G’night ya’ll. I’ll check back in tomorrow.

Thanks again for following along. Thanks for sharing and donating and commenting and reaching out.



Day 6 with my heat cut off.

It’s 41* inside my house. I can see my breath.

I don’t usually eat breakfast, but I made some oatmeal and hot chocolate to warm up from the inside and to feel a little comfort from something sweet and meaningful to me.

I have all my other utilities so in a few minutes I’ll shut myself in the bathroom and take a hot shower then hang out until the steam is gone.

Tomorrow night my United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley 2022 ALICE Awareness Week challenge ends. Knowing it’s a short lived and voluntary thing has make this much easier for me. Not having those two components and watching a child, an ill partner, or an older parent struggle next to me would change this experience tremendously. What wouldn’t I do to spare them from it? I honestly can’t say. I can imagine the desperation and determination but also the overwhelming hopelessness I might feel.

I do know well that many in this community carry these heavy rocks in their arms and in their back every day. I think often about my responsibility as their neighbour. I can offer kindness and compassion. I can listen to their stories and reflect humanity back at them. I can encourage and support without blaming or shaming or suggesting they are the problem. I can give my time, my support, my money, my willingness to explore the multifaceted solutions needed for complex problems. I can pay attention. #ALICEAwareness