4 posts categorized "Voices of SNAP/WIC"
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.
In 1983, a North Carolina grocery store publicly notified shoppers that it accepted the U.S. Department of Agriculture WIC vouchers. (Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration/USDA)
Voices of WIC is a regular feature in which people who have received assistance from the federal program give a first-person account of the experience. If you have received or are receiving WIC and would like to share your story, please send an e-mail to Sarah Godfrey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jennifer L. Brown
From December 1997 until May 2010, I worked in the human services field. I truly believe that I was a very good social worker and gave my clients my all. In July of 2010, I was blessed with my son. This should have been the happiest time in my life but, in so many ways, it was the worst time. I was unemployed, with no health insurance, and had nothing ready for my son’s arrival.
After the birth of my son, I became a client of the same programs I once ran. My experience with WIC stands out in particular. I learned so much and truly enjoyed our monthly classes. The peer counseling and the sharing of ideas to calm a crying baby are just a couple of the life jewels I learned as a client of the WIC program in Charleston, South Carolina.
For the first six months of my son’s life I was unemployed, and I honesty do not know how I would have provided nutrition for him without WIC. In our state, the maximum amount of unemployment you can receive is $320, before taxes. This was the only source of income I had to provide for my son and run our household. When I got my current job, in February 2011, I pledged to become a social worker in the mold of the ladies in the WIC office where I received service.
I have learned to treat everyone with value, instead of judging or putting down people who are doing their best in an undesirable situation. I will be forever grateful for what WIC allowed me to do for my son and I will support the program in any way I can.
Jennifer L. Brown is an employment assistance program coordinator with a community human services agency in Charleston, S.C.
By Amanda Bornfree
Even before my first visit to a WIC office, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I had only read a little on the importance of breastfeeding, but it was enough for me to realize that I wanted the best for my little one. Breastfeeding offers a host of benefits for both mother and baby. A breastfed baby is less likely to catch pneumonia, develop asthma and allergies, experience diarrhea or constipation, become jaundiced, or die from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). A mother who breastfeeds is less likely to have postpartum depression and develop certain cancers, and is more likely to shed her “baby weight." I was in. Sign me up. I was going to breastfeed.
In the waiting room of the WIC office that I visited monthly for my vouchers while pregnant with my first child, there were various wall posters that promoted breastfeeding. It was encouraging to see them. There were posters in both English and Spanish, catering to the diverse demographics of my Chicago neighborhood. The posters displayed information regarding hunger cues from infants, charts that compared infant formula to breast milk, and also the standard FAQ in regard to breastfeeding.
When I spoke with WIC employees they made a point to share facts about the benefits of breastfeeding, and that made me excited about the great nutrients that my body was developing. I learned that if I chose to breastfeed, I could continue to receive vouchers for up to a year after the birth of my baby, if I continued to qualify for the program—if I decided to formula-feed, the maximum amount of time would be six months. If I chose to formula-feed my baby, my vouchers would also have fewer food items on them, in order to make up for the cost of formula. WIC vouchers supply a certain amount of formula for babies, but not enough to cover the total cost of all of the food an infant needs. Breast milk, on the other hand, is not only better for the baby, but free. Wow!
It was at a WIC office that I was first introduced to the role of a breastfeeding counselor. During one of my visits, a WIC employee told me that if I had any questions about breastfeeding, or any difficulty with breastfeeding, there were breastfeeding counselors that I could call for advice. My eyes widened as she explained the details of WIC's breastfeeding program: “Once you give birth, if you are breastfeeding, we have a form that you can give to your doctor to fill out to receive a free breast pump," she said. "You have to be covered by the state to qualify. Since you’re on Medicaid, you do qualify. This will make it much easier for you to return to work or look for a job and continue to breastfeed your baby.”
Once again, I knew that WIC had my back. I knew that they truly cared and had the resources to help mothers during this critical time.
When I think of how devastating it would be to lose the circle of protection around WIC, my heart sinks. I was fortunate enough to know a little about the benefits of breastfeeding prior to visiting my local WIC office, but plenty of women are introduced to these benefits at a WIC office. I had decided that I would breastfeed prior to visiting WIC, but plenty of women have come to that decision because of WIC.
Once my daughter was nine months old, I became a breastfeeding peer counselor myself, through AmeriCorps. I wanted to do for others what was done for me–I wanted to educate and promote the facts about breast milk, and support women on their breastfeeding journeys.
Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in the church relations department at Bread for the World.
A mother talks to a WIC nutrition counselor outside of a farmers market in Martinsburg, West Virginia. (Photo: USDA)
By Amanda Bornfree
A couple of weeks after I found out my husband and I were expecting our first child, we lost our health insurance. We were disappointed, as is to be expected. I had been excited about going forth with my prenatal check-ups with a doctor I had chosen for her directness, serious demeanor, and expertise.
Due to our sudden shift in income, we now qualified for Medicaid and I was eligible for WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) benefits. The doctor who I had imagined would deliver our baby did not accept Medicaid. I had to look elsewhere.
A caseworker contacted me and invited me to a WIC clinic. I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and, ultimately, I wanted what would be best for my little baby. I thought, would I find it there? I didn’t want to stress.
When I arrived at the clinic, I was greeted by a sweet woman with sandy brown hair and a light voice. She was my caseworker. After filling out important paperwork, she went over my options for doctors and midwives. She spoke of each professional with respect and honesty. She shared with me the various options I could choose from. I was a little surprised that I had choices. Once I selected the professional I wanted to visit, my caseworker picked up the phone and made my first appointment. I wanted to open my arms and embrace her. But my first WIC appointment wasn’t over with yet.
“Are you taking prenatal vitamins?” she asked.
Yes, I nodded.
She pulled out a pamphlet about the nutrition that I needed as a pregnant woman. She talked me through it, and answered all of my questions. She then informed me of the WIC monthly vouchers. I would be able to receive foods with essential nutrients for my body and my baby.
Finding out that I could use some vouchers at farmers markets made me smile. I remember thinking, my baby and I are just as important as the family that is fortunate enough to frequent farmers markets. Though I’ve never believed that I was less than anyone, I was indeed vulnerable—I was pregnant for the first time and my household income had plummeted. The assistance I received made me feel loved and important. It gave my husband and I more faith in our belief that everything was going to be alright. And that faith fed our determination to succeed.
When I looked around the WIC clinic, I saw that I was among a community of women that cared for each other. Different generations, complexions, languages, and experiences—all of us present to keep ourselves and our families healthy. We all believed in that, whether we were there to help or to receive help. We all believed that everyone has the right to live a healthy life, and that a healthy life begins during the period from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday—the crucial 1,000 days.
Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in the church relations department at Bread for the World.