It was a miserable, cold, winter day when decided I could wait no longer to get some groceries. It was a Saturday and I dreaded the fact that the store was going to be busy. It was my first time going out with my EBT card (Electronic Benefits Transfer) or also known as food stamps. I was also on WIC (Women, Infants, Children) at the time as I was 6 months pregnant and had a one-and-a-half-year-old.
Getting the groceries was easy enough. I had my milk, eggs, cheese, and other mainly healthy selections. I selected a line that seemed to be moving the fastest, although all the lines were very busy. As I waited several people filed in behind me. I didn’t pay too much attention to them as my toddler daughter was getting a little antsy. She had been sitting for some time in the cart and she had had about enough.
Finally, it was my turn to put my things on the conveyer belt. All which had to be sorted with each appropriate WIC check. One check was for eggs and milk, another for cheese and so it went. At this point, I began to hear some sighs behind me and I could feel my face getting red. I then placed the items that were to be paid with my “food stamps” behind the WIC items. I tried to address the cashier quietly, “how do I use this?” Of course, she replied not so quietly, “Your food stamp card gets swiped here”. At this point, the woman behind me started whispering and chuckling behind me. Maybe she wasn’t even talking about me, but I could feel her eyes on me. At this point, I was close to tears. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.
Finally, the ordeal was over and I managed to get out of the store without shedding a tear, but once I was in the car – I let them fall.
Government assistance was there when I needed it. I found myself suddenly a single mom, pregnant with my second child, and I barely worked part-time, I was mostly a full-time mom. I couldn’t make the house payment – let alone buy food all on my own.
It was a hand-up. It lifted me so that I didn’t have to worry about that one aspect in my life. After I had my daughter, I worked hard – REALLY hard – and was promoted, several times. The hand-up was not a hand-out. It gave me the boost I needed to help me get on my feet and become successful. I have also lived in government housing – it gave me and my children a safe home with reasonable rent. All of which I am thankful for.
I write about this because I remember these days all too well and how it felt. As a matter of fact, I had to get back on assistance for a little while when I changed jobs just 4 years ago. The loss of income affected me financially much greater than I had anticipated and I found myself putting my groceries on credit cards so I could pay my bills. It only lasted a few months, and again – it was there when I needed a hand-up.
I believe that single moms need to do what it takes – whatever it takes – to provide the best environment for their children, this includes nutritious food on the table and a decent roof over their heads. It would also include the health of their child. I also believe that it should be for a season – we need to improve not just our environment – but ourselves as well.
When I was first divorced, I only had a high school education plus a 2 year associates from a Bible school and though I had lots of management experience, I knew that I would have a very difficult time paying for daycare – especially for two very young children. So, I worked at the local YMCA in the daycare. I didn’t make as much as I would have as a manager, but my children got to go to work with me each day and it was free to have them there. I also benefited because I got to see my children several times throughout the day, we weren’t separated and I didn’t miss any milestones.
Today, I am no longer in need of “food stamps” however, my kids still qualify for a government insurance plan. Government assistance should be a hand-up, not a hand-out. It should be there to lift- up those who are struggling and vulnerable in our society. I am thankful for the fact that I get to live in a country where as a single mom – I can thrive. Where I have opportunity and a chance at being successful, and where my children can succeed as well.
Sometimes, we all need a hand-up and although those people in line behind me didn’t know what a mess I had just come from, we shouldn’t let shame overtake us. WE need to remind ourselves that we are just trying to take care of our kids and doing what we need to do.
I think that sometimes cashiers and the people who look down on government assistance forget that the person standing before them has a story and that they are a person – not a statistic.
Going through this experience myself, I can tell you one thing – I have a lot more compassion for the woman in line who is paying with her WIC checks. May we all be more compassionate to one another.
Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.