Voices of Hunger: "We have families who need to eat"
Dawn Phipps (Joseph Molieri)
Voices of SNAP is a regular feature in which people who have received assistance from the federal program give a first-person account of the experience.
By Dawn Phipps
Many people think those of us who need food assistance are nothing but deadbeats and leeches; if we would just put down the bon-bons, get off the couch and get a job, life would be splendid. Ah, there’s a nice fantasy. The truth is that most of us are not deadbeats and leeches. We have jobs. We have families who need to eat. We have children who are wondering when dinner will be ready.
I had children who were wondering when dinner would be ready. One time, instead of telling my daughters I had nothing in the house to make for dinner, I called my ex-husband and made up some excuse about needing him to watch the kids. That way I could take them to his house and they would get dinner.
I eventually went to a food pantry. I was ashamed that I had to ask for help, but I felt welcomed and not judged. They gave me a big box of food. Healthy food. I was ecstatic that I could put something in the cupboard and fix something for my kids to eat. I am a single mom who has always worked full time, who rarely receives child support, and whose extended family has needs of their own, so I have been the sole means of support for my son and myself for quite some time.
When the recession hit a few years ago, I was laid off by my employer, who was a bankruptcy attorney. Three weeks later, I began to receive unemployment. It was helpful, but certainly did not replace what I was making. And all the while I was looking for a job.
I started to apply for every job that I could. Eventually I found myself applying at McDonald's. They told me I was over-qualified. I was feeling desperate and defeated. I realized that if I was going to adequately take care of my son, I was going to have to ask for help. For me, this was like admitting defeat.
Everything went well at the Health & Welfare office, where I applied for benefits, including SNAP. What I was not prepared for was how society would treat me. The first time I received my food stamps, I went shopping for the whole month. It seemed like the smartest way to plan. When people at the grocery store saw my cart, they were not pleased. I had purchased meat, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. I didn’t know buying healthy food was frowned upon. There were rude comments, eye rolling, whispering, people pointing at my cart—even some hostility from the cashier. I started shopping late at night so I might avoid all those judging people.
I even considered shopping in another town where no one would know me.
In January 2011, I finally found a full-time job with the state and in May of that year I received my last disbursement of food stamps. While my son and I were standing in line to purchase the last groceries I would have to use food stamps for, a woman in front of me in line started to chat with me. She said, “I should have known better than to come to the store on the first of the month with these losers and their food stamps. Don’t you feel the same?”
Knowing exactly how I am when it comes to judgmental people, my son told me not to say anything to her: “Please Mom, don’t!” I told my son, “I have to!” I had always made sure that my son had no idea that I was receiving food assistance so I quietly told her I received food stamps so she must think I’m quite a loser as well. I said “I’m sorry you feel this way when you don’t even know me.” I was not going to stand in the same check-out with this person. As I moved my cart to another lane she called out, “Well, you don’t LOOK like you’re on food stamps!”
Dawn Phipps is a nurse and hunger activist living in Boise, Idaho.
Your members of Congress are writing the farm bill right now and they need to hear from you! SNAP (formerly food stamps) is at risk of devastating cuts. Call your senators and representative today at 1-800-326-4941, or send them an email, and tell them to protect and strengthen SNAP!
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