40 Days of SNAP: Help? Help!
Children enjoy a snack at an after-school program in Washington, D.C. (Mark Fenton)
The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog.
By Ivan Herman
Church members keep coming to me and asking, “Pastor Ivan, is there any way we can help you and your family? Can we take you out to eat or bring over a casserole for the freezer?” I give a variation of the same answer every time: “Thanks, but no thanks.” “That kind of defeats the purpose of the Lenten discipline.” I know they mean well, but when you find someone who is fasting from chocolate for Lent, do you offer them a Snickers?
As often as I try to graciously say “no,” I must also find a way to graciously say “yes.” Jeremy said, “I took your daughter out for an ice cream at McDonald’s. I hope that doesn’t ruin your budget.” Wyn said during a Stephen Ministry devotional, “Here’s an onion. You can do a lot with an onion.” My father, during his vacation, said, “Even people on SNAP have granddads who give grandkids treats.”
But then there is our dear friend, Crystal. She and her husband, Jeff, know what it’s like to be on SNAP. Some years ago when their first child was born prematurely, Jeff had just been laid off from his job. They had no income, no significant savings, and were consumed with daily running back and forth to the hospital to care for their new baby girl. When applying for assistance to cover the cost of the medical bills for the baby, the social worker told them they could apply for SNAP. “How are you putting food on the table?” she asked them. Extended family and church friends had been graciously providing them food, but their need was evident. While it was only a matter of a couple months before Jeff was back to work and they were off SNAP, in their hour most filled with need it was a difficult decision to say “yes” to SNAP. There is such a stigma attached to asking for food stamp help.
A few Sundays ago Crystal approached my wife, Susan, in the church parking lot. She thrust a brown paper grocery bag into her arms without asking. “Take it. You’ll need it.”
Inside the bag was a handwritten note:
Ivan and Susan,
Well I thought this could help you in more ways than one. Besides the simple fact of needing more food than money can buy, any extra food can always help.
But also in my life I have found it to be easy to be on the giving end of help. It is a hard thing to ask for help from a friend, family member, or stranger. But when your family is in need you have to push aside pride and be willing to take a helping hand.
So this is our gift to you, some food for thought.
Annie Lamott’s newest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers distills our conversations with God into these simple words. She said in an interview that “Help …is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”
Even among generations there is a marked difference in the ability to ask for help and the perception of SNAP. A March 3 article in the Sacramento Bee explored the need among seniors. There is a growing population who are seeking food assistance from food charities, yet who won’t seek help from SNAP. “So many are eligible for CalFresh food stamps, … but they look at that as a welfare program as opposed to a nutrition supplement.” River City Food Bank saw the number of older adults seeking assistance rise by 25 percent in 2012.
I’m convinced Crystal is right. It is easier to be on the giving end of help than it is to ask for help. I don’t always ask for help when I need it. But I do pray that when I ask for it, that I will have the wisdom and ability to push aside my pride to do so. I also pray there will be assistance programs like SNAP to provide that help. And when I don’t ask for it, yet still need it, may there be generous hearts with overflowing brown paper bags that come unbidden.
Ivan Herman is associate pastor at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.
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