I’m the woman who was in front of you in the check out line at the grocery store today. My cart was filled with reduced price items and things I could get on sale with coupons. Redeeming my coupons slowed things down. My children were tired and hungry. It took a while to check out, longer than I’d hoped. To top it off, I paid with food stamps. I saw your arched eyebrows as you counted my children. I saw you shaking your head as I produced the EBT card. I heard your sigh as you looked at it and back at me. It’s alright. I’m used to those looks. I’ve been a food stamps Mom for many years.
The first year we were on food stamps, I wouldn’t even stay by the register as my husband checked out. I was too ashamed. I didn’t want to deal with the scorn from shoppers who’d never had to use food stamps a day in their lives and who couldn’t understand why I was using them. I didn’t want the pitying glances we sometimes received. Scorn is actually easier to take. These days I’m hardened to it all.
There are charlatans on food stamps, of that there is no doubt. Users, takers, abusers of the system who make it hard for all of us. I’m not one of them. A lot of us aren’t one of them. Our family, like many, suffered an economic downturn several years ago from which, so far, we’ve not managed to pull out.
I pinch my pennies. I count every dime. I use coupons when I can. I shop sales. I look for dented cans, reduced price meat, bruised vegetables and bags of fruit that have been marked down. I have many recipes for inexpensive meals and I use them all. Nonetheless, the money never goes far enough. We struggle through month after month. My husband works full-time. Since I’m a homeschooling Mom with a plethora of health problems, working outside our home is difficult for me but I do what I can to bring in a few dollars here and there. I work hard to save money. We do without a lot of things we need simply to stay afloat. Still we struggle.
I know it might frustrate some that we’re on food stamps. I understand that. I’m frustrated myself. I thought we’d be off of them long before now. I do my best to make do, to be creative, to stretch ingredients but there comes a point beyond which you simply can’t stretch things anymore. Because we still struggle I’ve been told to put my children in school and get a job. I’ve been talked down to and yelled at. I’ve been told we should sell our car and buy an old one when all we have is an old–very old–van with many problems; it’s only by God’s grace that it still runs. We’ve been told that we should move to the poor side of town in order to save money on rent; the speaker didn’t realize that’s where we already live. I’ve been told that I’m lazy, that we’re selfish, that we’re takers. You know what? I feel like a taker but I’m not. I’m poor. We’re poor. There are many with far less than we have but we have far less than most folks I know. At least we did until folks started losing their jobs right and left. Until our economy tanked. Now there are many people without a job or without a decently paying job who are struggling to make ends meet. Many who are doing without, moving to the poor side of town and selling their nice car for an old beater. Many of them are having to go through the initial shame of being on food stamps for the first time. Some of them are Moms. I feel for them. I know that shame myself.
If you see us in the store and feel irritation rising that a Mom of so many is getting the government to help support her family, stop and put yourself in my shoes. Things happened that I couldn’t control. I’ve done the best I could and still it’s not enough. It has to be though for there simply isn’t any more. I don’t need pity. I don’t deserve your scorn. Neither do any of the other food stamp Moms struggling to make ends meet, doing their best to provide for their children in a frightening economy. I, and they, need your prayers. We need a dose of grace. A smile of kindness rather than of pity. A word of encouragement rather than of condemnation. Perhaps your friendship.
There may be takers, there are probably lots of them, but if you don’t know my story, how do you know if I’m a taker or if I’m a Mom struggling to stay afloat for just one more day? When it is all boiled down, that’s who I really am: I’m just a Mom who loves her children and who’ll do whatever it takes to take care of them, even if it means bearing the shame of accepting food stamps in order to put food on our table.
God’s grace to you.
Soli Deo gloria