Inspired by the discussion surrounding the WaPo piece “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps” , Westgirl shared her experience of living in poverty long term.
Inspired by the discussion surrounding the WaPo piece “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps” , Westgirl shared her experience of living in poverty long term.
The article “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps” was sent to me about a dozen times by mid-morning. I tweeted my thoughts about it and you can see them below in the Storify I made (which may look wonky since embed doesn’t work correctly in wordpress, so I had to convert to html and …yeah).
I don’t have much to add to the series of tweets. A lot of people really loved this piece and I respect that. I suspect it’s because people are liking a narrative that addresses going from stability to poverty in a short time since it’s becoming a common story.
As always, I just like to look at things through a more critical lens and offer perspective that may be outside of popular opinion.
Thoughts on WaPo “Drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps”//
I’m a huge fan of Paying it Forward. I even offer little freebie Pay It Forward listing in my Etsy shop sometimes. One of the times I felt the most insulted in my whole life was when a woman insinuated that I was ungrateful for assistance and told me I needed to learn about paying it forward. Obviously, she didn’t know me, so her opinion is ultimately invalid but the very idea to suggest this was a concept beyond my comprehension. And perhaps more than that…. a concept no poor person would understand.
My personal experience, which is not scientific nor maybe even that worldly, is that poor people are the most generous people out there. Even when they don’t have money, they will find ways to help others…clothing, extra food, time,energy,help,support, kind words. Even sometimes money. Not a lot of money but no one understand more than poor people that “every little bit counts”.
So, I’ve just been thinking a lot about this over the weekend. My friend Nichole (who I met through my other blog quite some time ago and who I truly do consider a friend) started a fundraiser for my new mouth. I recognize supporters’ names as being people I know are also really poor folks.
My first inclination is to yell at them all and threaten to come kick their butt for donating anything (don’t think I won’t do it!) but …I mean..
Ok, I’m kind of speechless. I’m deeply moved by the generosity of people , most of whom only know me through my voice on this blog. I have oodles and oodles of gratitude this morning. Thank you so much,everyone. I’ll have a lot to pay forward and I actually look forward to it.
Some notable reads from around the web today…
The Challenges of Finding Employment as a 52-Year-Old Transgender Woman – Finding employment when you’re over 50 is really difficult but then add in being a transgender woman, it’s damned near impossible. Sometimes I wonder if the reason I get upset by the near daily articles I see about trans people facing job discrimination is because I know transgender people and they’re a part of my life? Not enough people seem to be that concerned about the discrimination that places trans people at a huge risk for being in poverty. This woman’s story isn’t unique and that makes it even more heartbreaking.
“Poverty has been rebranded as personal failure.” theguardian.com/society/2014/a…
Unless it’s a poor kid, no one really cares about poor people. And then even then, it’s that lazy,irresponsible parent’s fault that the kid is poor. Poor is segmented into poor ,innocent babies and lazy slackers.
Global poverty, stigma, and the spread of disease socialjusticesolutions.org/2014/04/24/glo… -
“Blaming cultural practices or poverty-linked practices of living, such as the potential link between poor rural regions consuming bush meat which could be contaminated by the virus, stigmatizes those stricken by this rare virus or by curable illnesses such as malaria, or diarrhea. Even though it is often inappropriate and counterproductive to blame culture or practices of different populations, poverty and socioeconomically oppressive structures propel the spread of disease.
It is poverty that further stigmatizes those who have been infected with a virus that is largely misunderstood by rural communities and scientists alike. It is poverty that causes overcrowded health care clinics that are unable to maintain a standard of sanitation due to a lack of funds which allows for the spread of disease. It is poverty that stigmatizes culture to be part of the source of their suffering. Fighting poverty and fighting disease are inextricably mixed, and neither one should operate in an isolated silo.”
This picture showed up on my tumblr dashboard right after I’d finished reading all the new things in my inbox this morning. It feels like it belongs here. Today, I woke up to a few stories from women who have been in similar situations as Shanesha Taylor. In every story, if someone had offered help and a real solution the outcome would probably be vastly different.
This is Jill’s story:
Several years ago when I lived in NC with my 3 kids, ages 6, 8, 11, I was working 11p-7a. My live- in boyfriend worked 3p-11p.(at the same place)We had one car. The kids were in school through the day and I would drop the bf off at work at 3 and come home to do supper homework and after school activities. Kids went to bed around 9 or 10. I then left the kids alone while I went to work and boyfriend drove home. They were alone less than an hour. My neighbor knew this and would watch the house.
But one night when I was working my boyfriend called me to say that police and CPS were already at my house when he got there and were taking the kids. I was devastated and my life hasn’t or will ever be the same. I died that day as my family was ripped apart. I left work and lost my job. I fought with the boyfriend and he moved out, taking the car. There I sat in my 1 br house ,brokenhearted and broke. Kids went to foster care but eventually went to my mothers because the judge said I was unable to care for them with no job and no transportation.
I started using drugs and attempted suicide multiple times. I fell down a huge black hole and only recently pulled myself out. Today I realize that I should have taken the kids with me to work, or begged the neighbor (who was the one who actually called CPS) to stay at my house until the boyfriend got there. But I didn’t. At the time it seemed like the only choice I had and it had been working for over a year. But it wasn’t enough. If only I could have afforded another car or a babysitter, or could have worked another shift. But I couldn’t and that’s what happened. I did the best I could with what I had and CPS ruined my life instead of attempting to help find a solution.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending. I never got my kids back and they don’t even speak to me to this day. And our lives will never be the same. We used to be a close loving family. Now we are broken souls living miles and miles apart because of a decision to go to work. So, fuck CPS and fuck poverty.
I was an Early Childhood Educator for years and therefore, a mandated child abuse & neglect reporter. I was required by law to document and report when neglect and abuse was suspected. Clear cases of abuse went unfounded while struggling poor families, often headed by single mothers, faced scrutiny from CPS on a regular basis. Sometimes, the report was made by someone whose goal was to be vindictive. Always, there was something that could have been done to help the family. Many times, poverty is mistaken for neglect. The system of poverty…that IS most definitely child abuse, but not at the hands of parents who are just trying to do the best with what they have and making hard choices. Blame is always put on the parents making the hard choices. People will always have a solution that starts with,”She should have done…” or “If it were me, I would have….” , which are never real solutions, just judgements. I can’t be outraged at the choices poor parents feel forced to make while living in poverty. I’m more outraged at a system that ruins families and people’s lives.
One of my favorite blogger/writers Samantha Irby has been talking about her dental issues lately and because the Internet is awesome, there’s now a gofundme because yeah…bitches gotta have teeth .
Reading Sam’s post today [ bitches gotta eat. - this is what's up with my teeth.] …oh, I am so hoping the beautiful people of the Internet raise the money she needs. Sincerely crossing fingers.
Her post about what’s up with her teeth? That’s pretty much where I am right now.Except that I don’t have the extra complication of Crohn’s. I also didn’t grow up poor. I was raised in a trailer park, surrounded by a lot of poor people but my own family wasn’t poor. People assume I was poor because of where I lived but that’s another story…
I literally was never made to brush my teeth. I went to the dentist ONCE before I turned 18. The dentist told my mom I needed braces and that was that. We’re never going back to THAT place again. I mean, I figured a lot out myself…thanks to Dental Health Month and everything but I think it’s probably common sense that someone who brushes their teeth but can’t go to a dentist is probably going to still end up with issues. As an adult, I had some pretty crappy dentists who did more harm than good. And then I had 2 separate accidents that caused me to break my front teeth. I’m a major klutz. It’s also been pointed out that my periods of food scarcity & poor nutrition haven’t exactly helped.
I also have not gotten an official quote from the dentist. I don’t even have a dentist right now. I just got dental coverage through my new married-lady insurance . I’m also pretty scared. I know they’re going to demand my last born child as payment. I know – usually they demand first born but he just turned 24. I don’t know what they’d want with him.
Well, I don’t know what they’d want with my 3 year old,either.
Ok, forget them demanding children as payment because I’m sure this is sounding way weirder than I intended.
Money. They’re going to want a lot of money. That’s what I meant.
The only perk I can find right now in this teeth situation is that I’ve lost weight on my new soup & banana diet. I really did need to lose weight. I’m glad I spent years studying herbal medicine because that’s coming in super handy right now for fighting infection and keeping pain to a minimum.
Everyone remember that one woman who wrote a thing about being poor on the Huffington Post that went viral? Linda Something. (I’m not linking to it. Feel free to use the Google).
I was not a huge gushing fan of that article. I was actually a little furious. In the essay-thing , she mentioned that her bad teeth were the reason she couldn’t get a decent job. I can completely attest to this being a legit reason someone could not get a decent job. THAT’S ME. I’m educated, great resume, I have all sorts of crazy skills that people used to pay me for but really,the teeth keep people from hiring me now. It’s that bad. So, I wasn’t mad that this Linda chick said that about her teeth. I was mad that she went on Huff Post live to talk about her viral article and guess what?
Her teeth were fine.
Refresher for anyone who might remember that whole article: The Internet came together and raised at least $60,000 for this woman who they thought had a mouth full of rotten teeth and was living in poverty deeper than anyone could imagine.
I don’t know why I’m rehashing all this because really…. let it go . I just think about that from time to time, especially when someone requests an interview with me and I feel that I have to decline. I am beyond self-conscious of my mouth and every time I talk, I’m pretty sure none of my words matter at all .It’s all undone by the dental nightmare that my mouth is. Well, interviews and job opportunities. I’ve lost out on some good opportunities because of this. This isn’t just me being insecure. It’s a totally honest truth. It’s been a forthright comment about why I wasn’t hired. People judge people by their teeth . A lot. It sucks because the state of my teeth have nothing to do with how much I care about myself . It’s a pure reflection of poverty.
I am also uber sensitive to jokes about stupid people without teeth now. That shit is not ok.
Someday soon, I will get a quote from a dentist and find out how much money it’s going to take to make me a person again, a career employable woman people take seriously because the words coming out of her mouth are just words and there’s no crappy teeth getting in the way. A friend who doesn’t live in the U.S. says I made a HUGE mistake marrying my husband. I shoulda married someone from a country with excellent dental health care. I have never understood why dental insurance is seen as an entirely separate thing than Health Care and I’m pretty sure that my insurance will cover like 0.000012% of that I need done.
Um, yeah…. heart disease, sepsis, diabetes,respiratory infections (I have one now) ,and …crap…Alzheimer’s,even. Nah, dental health isn’t important at all!
Excellent. The last sentence has now made me have a panic attack. Tomorrow morning, I think I need to make that appointment. Anyone want to hold my hand when I go? In spirit, even. That’d be cool.
In November, Em first wrote here in a guest post about an incident in a grocery store with a woman who harshly judged the food she was buying with SNAP….for her chronically ill daughter. She shared her family’s story and their struggle with disabilities and poverty. I related to one aspect of Em’s story, in particular. Like myself in worse-off times, she had to go hungry to feed her kids.
You can read Em’s post from November here:
Then, an update from December here.
Now I’ve asked Em to give us another update.This woman kinda amazes me. All my conversations with her are so filled w/ hope,love, and gratitude. I keep putting myself in her situation and I’m not sure I could be so strong. Em and her family’s situation have me thinking a lot about how we care for and support families with disabled children in the U.S.
So, an update.
Everyday, first thing in the morning, I spend 10 or 15 minutes counting the blessings, finding the hope and otherwise working to keep a positive attitude that I find so important to survive this life. I have 3 amazing kids and the best wife I could ever hope for. My marriage has not only survived but strengthened throughout this ordeal. We have heat and power and running water. My parents recently gifted me a new cell phone that allows me to keep in touch with the world. And, I had the chance to get an education and to educate my kids. Yes, I am truly blessed in so many ways.
Yet, at the end of the day, I worry as I drift off to sleep. I worry about utilities, transportation and all of our health. I worry about what will happen to my disabled kids when I am gone. So many things have gotten better but so many others have gotten worse.
This year has sucked. It really and truly sucked. Every time I think we are getting our heads above water, we get sucked back under. After my daughter got home from the hospital in November, our house suffered major structural damage. It became unstable and was later condemned by the city. We became homeless and lost almost everything we had.
We had to stay with family for a time and, because they were out of county, we lost our food stamps and had to reapply when we moved into our new house. We applied to get the food that we lost in the house replaced and were denied. The appeal was also denied. Recently, we got the food stamp situation fixed.
Also, in early January, my wife was laid off for a while. We were slowly saving to replace our dying refrigerator and stove and get a used washer and dryer to replace the ones we lost when we had to leave our home but were forced to use that money to eat, keep utilities on and otherwise survive. Hopefully she can go back in April or May and we can begin saving again. I just cross my fingers that it lasts that long. For now, we will continue washing the laundry by hand and hanging it around the house.
To top all of this off, we had some serious car trouble this week. Thankfully, my wife is handy and she was able to make it roadworthy for now. Unfortunately, at this point our 20 year old van is mostly held together with a mixture of bubblegum and duct tape. Well, ok, not quite…but we are constantly trying to rig it together to last a few more miles. It has 210,000…so, it can’t last forever…but we have 5-7 doctors appointments each week. Busses are out (germs!) and we’ve already used our transportation benefits for this year.
But, my biggest worry is what are my kids going to do long-term. I have come to terms with my own illness. I have treatments monthly with daily meds as well. My life expectancy is only slightly shortened but I am susceptible to illnesses and otherwise have to take care of myself. My fear, though, is for my kids.
My daughter’s syndrome causes episodes of brain swelling, low blood counts and other scary symptoms. They suspect that she also has seizures and these episodes cause her to struggle academically and socially. Each episode causes her to step a little further back. She is also Deaf and struggles with language skills. Her brother has a mental illness and is on the autism spectrum. My little guy is also on the spectrum and is incontinent and struggles with maintaining his weight and has other issues.
I will care for them for the rest of my life but then what? I fear they will be placed in a facility, nursing home or group home. Those places are mostly ok but they aren’t home…they aren’t love. I want them to always know love.
But, in the thick of all of it, the amazing folks here came through and helped us with money, gift cards, food, clothing, dog treats and so many other things. We had just lost all of our stuff when that happened so it was such a huge blessing. We only recently bought pull-ups for the first time and we will have carnation instant breakfast for a long time yet thank you!!! A couple of other bloggers helped with a late Thanksgiving dinner (First meal in our new house!), some Christmas presents and Christmas outfits for the kids.
It helped so much! I still look back on those posts and comments for hope in those words, deeds and other things. Thank you, all of you, for giving us that hope!
All my love, Em
There is a donation page set up to help replace items lost in the house when the chimney collapsed HERE but since then…a reliable vehicle and grocery money is a huge priority.
Em has also set up a Facebook page to help keep people updated on her daughter’s health : Makenna’s Signs of Peace, Love and Hope
Also, if you have clothing and don’t know where to donate them locally, you could check out Matching Outfit’s needed list: HERESome other ideas of places to donate to are local teen pregnancy/parenting groups or domestic violence shelters. I moderate my local Freecycle board and I know that a lot of social worker’s use both Freecycle and Craigslist to help their clients find clothing and goods. Those would be good places to check,too. Ok, now I’ll stop talking and pass along Jenn’s “thank you”. When you check out the comments in Jenn’s Words, you’ll see that Jenn has taken the time to respond to many people there,too.
I have been overwhelmed with gratitude at the response to my story. The reaction to my story, the shared generosity toward my family, and the compassion have rendered me speechless. Now, ask anyone who knows me – a speechless Jenn is incredibly rare and it takes a lot to get me to that point. I could never have imagined that my story would go so far and that the response to it would be so beautiful.
I have an incredibly difficult time admitting that I need help. I’ve always been the one to fix things, to help people, and it’s hard for me to be in the position of the one in need. This entire experience in my life has been humbling. I’ve learned to accept help. I’ve learned to allow myself to be vulnerable. I’ve learned to keep speaking up, even when I am exposing a part of me that some view as shameful.
My family has received such a tremendous blessing from all of you. Everything – the words of support and encouragement, prayers, solidarity, love, advice to donations of time, helpful resources, and money – means more to my family than I can adequately express with words. For quite a while now, I have felt like I’ve been near drowning, getting pushed down whenever I come up for air. You all have allowed me to breathe. Today, I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders. I have hope. I have joy. There is peace in me and in my family. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
You have all shown me that I am not alone and that I’m not worthless. The kindness and compassion directed at my family has brightened my life and given me so much reason to keeping hoping and moving forward. This is something I want everyone to feel – that people ARE good. This world IS good. We’re not as lost and crappy as the media wants us to believe. When people work together and strive to understand one another, good things will happen. Even when things seem so bleak, we aren’t alone.Again, from the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you. You have all made a gigantic positive impact in my life, the lives of my children and my husband. From friends of mine to complete strangers – you are all in my heart and surrounded by my endless gratitude. I wish I was better able to convey it….there just aren’t enough words to explain how thankful I am. You have my word that I will pay this forward. I am so inspired by all of your words, love, and generosity.I want to extend thanks to my dear friend, Jupiter, who created the Poor As Folk blog. I have known her for a while and she has been an unwavering advocate for the poor and has encouraged me so much. Thank you, Jupiter, for encouraging me to share my story and for giving me a platform to share it. You have always been a source of inspiration for me and I love you dearly.Thank you. Much love to you all.Jenn
Thank you to Jenn for sharing her personal story of living in poverty right now….
Today, I did something I never thought I’d do. I yelled at my son for being hungry. Oh sure, there are many parents nodding in agreement because they’ve done the same thing. Many have yelled at their kids for asking for one more snack right before dinner was served or for wanting to eat junk food out of boredom. That’s not why I yelled. I yelled because I didn’t have extra food to give him and I was taking my frustration out on him. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’s just a kid, a 7 year old who is full of energy and constantly growing. Of course he’s hungry often. That’s what kids do. However, I didn’t have enough food for anyone to have extras. Everything has to be rationed out over a week or more. Food stuff needs to be stretched. Already angry and frustrated with our situation, I lost my cool when my child asked a simple question – because I knew there was nothing I could do to change it in that moment. My anger turned to worry, another constant feeling in my daily life, as I wondered if this would create food issues in my child. Will he be afraid to eat, knowing that we might not have enough the next day?
I’m 35 years old. I am a mother and a wife. I am college educated, degreed, and I have held a professional license. I have been working since the age of 18. Until now. I live in poverty. I am poor. My family is poor.
When I say I am poor, I don’t mean that it’s going to take me two weeks to save for a new iPad or the next iWhatever. I don’t mean that I’ll need a coupon to shop at J.Crew. I mean that I have saved my kids Halloween candy for times when my blood sugar gets too low after a day of not eating because I can’t afford enough food for 3 square meals for the entire family. It means that having my heat set above 60 degrees is a luxury. It means that the needle on my gas gauge is constantly hovering at E. It means that we wear our clothes several times before laundering because we can’t afford the fees to use the washing machines. It means the thrift shop is damn expensive. It means so many more things that we don’t often think about unless we’re living in poverty. As a culture, we are disconnected to the idea of not having access to the most basic needs. Consumerism and materialism are supposedly signs of a healthy economy and successful nation, environment be damned, and a blind eye towards those less advantaged is a requirement.
Our story of poverty doesn’t come with credit card bills, expensive cable packages, luxury toys. It’s not that anyone should be judged for why they are poor, but people naturally ask, mostly out of curiosity and sometimes to find information to justify their lack of care for your position, for a way to blame you for your own situation. It makes it easier to detach. We have both been hard workers for over a decade. We have played by the rules. It still got us. I am currently unemployed – and that’s not for a lack of effort. My husband lost a fairly good job over a year ago and we’ve been pulled down a spiral ever since. His period of unemployment meant we burned through our savings and our emergency fund. While I am still unemployed (to be fair, I do walk dogs or babysit on occasion for some cash, but those times are few and far between), my husband is currently working three jobs. Three jobs. My husband is not college educated. He has worked on the warehouse/shipping/receiving side of retail for a very long time and is good at what he does. He’s very strong, enjoys physical labor, and is a hard worker. His three jobs are retail-based. Two of them pay exactly minimum wage. The third pays just above that. He is constantly applying for jobs on a weekly basis, as am I. With three jobs, you can imagine he works many hours. There have been weeks were he worked all three jobs back to back with maybe an hour or two in between. Thanksgiving to the New Year were brutal. He would often work nearly 30 hours in a row, come home to sleep for a few hours, then go back for another cycle of 30 hours. It’s been brutal on his health and our family.
Will someone stop for a moment and tell me in what world is it considered moral for a person to work three jobs and still be unable to support their family. It just isn’t right.
Living in poverty is like being punched in the face over and over and over on a daily basis. It’s pulling yourself out of a hole, only to fall over a cliff. Every step in the right direction is rewarded with a hearty push several steps back. The changes to one’s mental health when living in poverty can be astonishing. I suffered a miscarriage years ago and I knew anger and sadness then. I made my way through it and survived. I didn’t think I would feel such strong emotions again. I was wrong. The anger is back. Anger is for everything. I’m angry I am in this situation. I am angry I’m not good enough for proper employment. I’m angry my children are living through this. I am angry at my husband. I’m angry at Christians who preach against me, ignoring the words of Christ. I’m angry at politicians who vote against people like me. I’m angry at a society that views me as a leech, as a welfare queen, as someone who deserves the be on the bottom of humanity’s shoe.
There is jealousy. I’ve never been a materialistic person and neither has my husband. We have never felt the need to keep up with the joneses – no desire for brand name clothing, big screen TVs, or the latest electronic gadget. We’ve never had cable. I liked to shop when I genuinely needed things, but I wouldn’t overspend or buy things I couldn’t afford. I never owned a credit card. Fashion magazines were fun and I’d laugh at the implication that a woman should spend $200.00 on a pair of jeans. Now, I’m jealous at anyone who can afford to buy $15.00 jeans on sale at Old Navy. Friends post their “OMG! Kohl’s haul!” on Facebook, posting pictures of their new boots, sweaters, jeans, yoga pants, etc. Where I would once say, “oh, those boots are cute,” I am now filled with plain old bitter envy. I wish I could just look at my boots, the ones with the rip in them, decide it was time to buy new ones, and walk out the door to buy a new pair. I wish I could say, “Gee, I sure am sick of wearing the same two shirts day in and day out,” and go to a store a buy a few new shirts that actually fit. I can’t. I have clothes that are finally showing their age and their wear. Threads are falling lose, seams opening, little holes throughout fabric, buttons are disappearing. An acquaintance said to me recently, “You actually look like a poor person.” Gee, thanks. I didn’t know there is a certain look for poor people… My husband spent a few months with holes in his work pants. I sewed them up as best I could, but eventually the fabric would be worn down so much that there wasn’t much to sew. He took to wearing black shorts under his pants (also black) so the holes wouldn’t be a noticeable. Thankfully, he received a couple of new pairs for Christmas. He also spent months walking with holes in his shoes. His sneakers literally fell off his feet one day and he was left with boots that were no longer waterproof and had a hole or two. He’d walk to and from work in rain and snow in those boots. Forget socks. He doesn’t own a pair without holes. We were blessed by a couple of friends who chipped in to buy him and new pair of sturdy, waterproof work boots.
Jealousy isn’t limited to clothing. I’ve been jealous that friends can do wild and crazy things like buy a full tank of gas, get new brakes for their cars, buy a pack of toilet paper, eat. Food is a big one. In this age of social media, one can guarantee that at least 3 ultra-filtered Instagram photos of a friend’s lunch will scroll on by on their computer screen each day. Back in the day, I would just note that so-and-so had a bagel for lunch and I’d go on with my day. Now, I just sit there and wish it was me. I wish I had a plate full of good food to obnoxiously photograph, but I don’t. It’s the food that really drove the issue home for me not too long ago. I had taken my children to Ikea. We weren’t there to buy anything. It was damn cold, we were tired of being cooped up in the house, and there weren’t many options for a free place to play. Ikea has a play zone for my older child. My daughter is more than happy to walk around the store, sitting on sofas and chairs. I love Ikea because it’s fun to imagine having different furniture and organization. While there, I bought my kids lunch. They had one of their specials going and kiddie meals were free! My kids each had a meal, which included drinks. I didn’t get anything for me. As they ate, I would pick at their plates, stealing a bite here and there. I looked at everyone eating around me and that’s when the tears, which I fought very hard to hold back, started to flow. I wanted so badly to be able to order something for myself. I was starving and the little bites of steamed veggies and mac ‘n’ cheese weren’t very filling. I hadn’t eaten yet that day and found myself just staring at the plates of strangers, wishing I was free to get myself something to eat. I found myself glaring at people through my tears as they took plates and bowls half full of food to the trash center – what a waste of food! Never before had I been tempted to say, “hey, I’ll take that,” than I was on that day. My son noticed me wiping tears and asked what was wrong. I lied and told him I took a bite of his sister’s squash and it must have had some sort of spice on it and I was reacting to that. He believed me for a moment, taking a last bite of his mashed potatoes before pushing the plate over to me and telling me he was full. More tears to fight off.
That brings me to the hunger. The hunger is extraordinary. There is a constant gnawing in your stomach, an empty feeling that has taken up permanent residence. Even as you’re eating a meal, you feel the hunger. It never goes away because you don’t know when you’re going to eat again. You don’t know if your next meal will be something proper or if it’ll be half a fun-sized bag of M&M’s that you hoarded from your kids’ Halloween haul or nothing at all. It’s an ever-present gastric uncertainty. As food stamp benefits continue to be cut and food pantries struggle to feed communities, that uncertainty will just continue. I hate to think of my children feeling the same way. They get first dibs on all food that comes through this house. There are many days when my kids get their three meals and I get half of one and my husband….well, I never see him because he is working all the time, but he barely eats, too. This is obviously unhealthy. Our health has tanked over the last year. I’ve been told I constantly look tired. My eyes are more sunken, devoid of light. My skin is dry, blemished, and overall just blah. My hair is brittle and I lose a lot of it on a daily basis. I’m constantly weak. My husband is a very strong man, but he has lost an alarming amount of muscle and strength in the past year. The two of us are constantly exhausted. Part of that is the hunger, part of it is emotional.
The emotions certainly take their toll. Hopelessness is unbearable. I was once someone that my friends would always look to for a positive thought and encouraging words. I always managed to see the good in every situation. I try my best to hold onto that, but it’s been slipping away quickly. Fear is constant. You’re always afraid of what’s next. I’m afraid of opening my bills to find new late fees. I’m afraid of losing utilities. I’m afraid of being evicted because we can’t afford our rent. You want to think positive, but the idea of “what’s next” is always looming. Things that might seem minor to one person can spell disaster for a family in poverty. Last week, my husband told me my tail light was out. This is typically not a big deal for many people. To us, it’s terrifying. We don’t have the money for a new tail light. But, it’s illegal here to have one out. Our cops here are very good at pulling you over for broken lights, outdated stickers, etc. Obviously, it’s the law to keep your car in check. We know this. I’ve always been great at keeping my car well-maintained. My inspections were always done on time, lights would be replaced immediately, oil is always changed, I never drove on gas fumes at the needle hovered on E. It’s all different now. Small things are big things. Monumental things. The idea of needing a tail light, an inspection, or a new tire due to the 100’s of pot holes created by tons of snow this Winter is enough to send me into a panic. Weather is terrorizing these days. Two of my husbands jobs can be called off due to snow or ice because the trucks can’t get to them, so they tell staff to stay home. We’ve had storm after storm after storm this season. My husband has missed so much work, not by choice, due to snow and ice. We added it up and discovered that he missed enough to pay for nearly two months of rent. Same for me – no doggies to walk in this weather because people are staying home.
Poverty is isolating. Friends eventually fade away because they think you’re ignoring them when you constantly turn down their invites to dinner or events. They take it personal no matter how many times you insist it’s not. Your children’s social lives suffer for the same reason – you can’t afford to send them to many birthday parties or playdates. Trips to zoos, museums, and other fun places with admission fees are extremely limited. People eventually tire of you being unavailable to come out for fun and they stop calling and texting. And maybe I should say those people aren’t friends in the first place, but it doesn’t take the pain away. It doesn’t make me hurt less for my children. Conversely, you have friends who know you’re in poverty and they try to brainstorm, try to help you through it. You say thank you a million times, but it’s not enough. After a while, trying to save you is boring and when they realize they didn’t fix you, they get annoyed. I’ve been called everything by people who were supposed to be my friends. Because I can’t snap my fingers and make things work perfectly and because that fact depresses the fuck out of me, I’ve been called useless, manipulative, worthless, unmotivated. No one wants to hear that you have tried all the options that they suggested and they didn’t work out. No one wants to hear that you know exactly why a suggestion won’t work. They don’t understand why you can’t “just move” or “just declare bankruptcy” or just swing around a pole (note: no one ever suggests that my husband sell his body for cash…but quite a few people have presented it as an option for me). This isn’t to say they are not well-meaning – and they certainly are not under appreciated by me – but they eventually get exasperated when you explain time and time again why certain suggestions don’t work. They want to fix you, fix you now, get you to shut the fuck up about being poor. It’s hard for others to deal with the overwhelming depression and hopelessness that accompanies poverty. It’s hard for them to hear that you don’t want to get up in the morning anymore, that you just want to end it all. So, it’s sometimes easier to be angry at the poor person, to convince yourself that they just don’t want to work for it, and keep your distance from them. Many friendships have been strained by poverty.
However, no one can be as hard on you as you are on yourself. I spend hours per day telling myself how much I suck. If only I had done this or done that. I know our circumstances were beyond our control. I know how hard we try every single say. But, it doesn’t stop me from doubting myself, from putting myself down. It doesn’t stop the shame. I feel like a leech. I’m told by my friendly clergymen, my wonderful politicians, and by people I know and once called friends that I am a burden on society. I’m a taker. If only I worked harder. If only I wanted to stop being poor and getting handouts, then everything would turn around and I would be rich. If only I would pray harder, attend the correct church, and read an ancient book that I have read cover to cover many times in the past. Then God would just bestow His blessings upon me. Or, I should really just consider putting some positive energy out into the Universe. If I meditate and tell the Universe that I want money, money will come and everything will be fixed. The constant shouts from society’s peanut gallery telling me how the poor or worthless and damned help shape my inner dialogue and I begin to agree with them. I am worthless. I deserve the shame I feel.
It’s hard to accept help when your inner dialogue tells you that you are useless. People tell me to be willing to accept help, I’ll be able to pay it forward someday. Without friends and the kindness of strangers, we wouldn’t have had a Christmas for our kids. My car payment would not have been paid for a couple of months, my husband would still have holes in his boots, and my car would still be uninspected and I’d be in deep shit. And we’re still here, still in need.
I sit here now, writing this at my desk that is piled with overdue utility bills and a statement from my landlord telling us they are pursuing legal action against us because our rent is currently 17 days late. I have multiple windows open on my computer – several for job applications for me, several job applications for my husband to look at once he’s home from work, a few for charity searches, another for prayer requests, and another for a site that offers emotional support and solidarity for people like me. The future is more than uncertain and it feels that the ground under me can open at any moment and swallow me whole.
And so I do pray. I do hope. I work hard to get our family out of this hell hole and so does my husband. I am grateful in ways that I cannot fully express for all the help that has come to my family in recent months from both friends and strangers. It reminds us that even though life is pure shit right now, there are bright spots. The good exists. So, we continue to focus on that. I hope to eventually write about how we struggled, survived, and came out on top. Until then, be nice to the poor folk. You can have all the assumptions in the world about how they got there, how the feel, how much they “take,” but you can never really know their true story – humans deserve compassion.——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
Hello,again. I just wanted to take a minute to address a couple things here that a very small number of people have concerns about. I’ve already mentioned a bit of this in Jenn’s Thanks and my pre-ramble before it (and please do go read that f you haven’t already!), but traffic seems to still be heavier for this post with not so many visit for the latter.
Ok,first… there wasn’t ever any point where anyone said that cash only donations would be accepted. As stated above, I was trying to figure out the logistics of that ,for one thing. I do have quite a bit of experience collecting and distributing goods that need to get to places they’re needed and I just know that many times it’s impractical. Not only is it pricey to ship a box of canned food but when you have a lot of people reaching in to their closets for things to donate to ONE family, what happens is a major overflow of goods that one family couldn’t possibly use but still has to figure out what to do with.
So, I suppose I would most definitely discourage physical items…but I can’t refuse enthusiastic help. I also know that Jenn would be able to pass along overflow to connections she has in her community, such as Catholic Charities. As it stands right now, there IS a place to mail items if you really want to do that. (You can find that info in the thank you post).
There was tremendously weird discussion about the issue of PO Box. I have a PO Box. It’s up there. Like I said, people can send me small things I can forward them. As the theme of this blog implies, I’m kinda poor. I can’t afford to forward large boxes of things. I do not suggest anyone put their home address on the Internet. I’ve learned to be cautious from experience. Why doesn’t Jenn get a PO Box “with all that money raised in gofundme” ? In case you’re unaware of how gofundme works, it takes 2-5 business days for the transfer to a bank account to begin. Not all the money is available at once. It’s transferred in increments. Meaning: the gofundme money is not even in Jenn’s bank account yet. When the first of it does arrive there, there are pressing needs such a dealing with eviction,court fees,broken taillight…
But the really cool thing about money is that you can buy food with it,too.
I know that some people who have never experienced poverty will still not understand a lot of narratives about poverty. Even if you grew up in poverty, you still only have the experience of being a child in poverty, not as an adult trying to keep their head above water for themselves and their kids. So, while that experience is your own, it is not the experience of a parent dealing with poverty, or even of other children who grew up poor. My point is, each person has their individual story to tell. You can learn from them and grow a better understanding & compassion , or you can sit in judgement and condemnation because the narrative doesn’t match the one you made up in your head. S’up to you.
The first time I experienced true hunger, I just went with it and hoped the answer to having no food would fall in my lap. Something would change. I was not about to go beg for help. I was raised knowing what kind of people got free money from the government. Lazy,good for nothing,waste of space kind of people. I was harder on myself also because I heard all the voices back from when I had a baby when I was just a girl myself…the ones that said, ‘You’ll never make it. You’re going to ruin your own life and that baby’s.’.
Realistically, I should have been proud of the fact that I raised that baby until he was 5 without help from anyone, family or the government. A 35 year old single mother had just as much chance of being the one who found herself suddenly without a job and no new prospects, struggling to avoid eviction and keep the lights on and food in bellies. I just didn’t see it that way then. I saw myself as the conservative naysayer’s prophecy come true. I honestly believed asking for help made me less of a “strong woman”.
I fed my kid what there was to eat and if there was leftovers, I’d eat that. I was naturally petite, weighing only about 110 pounds at my heaviest winter weight. Before long, I started to lose my curves and people noticed. At first, it was, “Wow, you look great!” , until I didn’t look great anymore and I just looked sick. I weighed 85 pounds before someone I barely knew started leaving food on my doorstep and then made me call DSS to apply for food stamps & cash assistance.I was ashamed and embarrassed, which was only made worse by the way people treat you when you’re getting assistance but the world didn’t end and we ate.
That was the first time.
The second time I was really hungry, I had taken myself, my son, and newborn twins out of a horrible situation and moved into an apartment. It didn’t take long to feel like I had just gone from a dangerous place to another dangerous place. I was working full time, paying more than half my paycheck to daycare, not receiving any child support or assistance from anywhere. As soon as I caught myself rationing food and making sure the kid ate before I did, I recognized that it was time to apply for help. I did and I was denied. I made $110 too much, according to the income eligibility guidelines. $110 too much yet not enough to actually make it. I applied for a daycare subsidy, trying to free up that money to pay the bills & eat but there was a 6 month waiting list. That’s a long time to wait when you’re hungry. I went to food pantries and bought cheap, gross food. The apartment I lived in had no place for me to grow food. Then, the daycare center I worked at as a teacher went bankrupt and closed. That saved my ass. No longer making anything, I was approved for food stamps and we could eat again. I don’t know what would have happened if the place I worked for hadn’t closed and I had stayed employed. I had already started not eating at home and looking forward to the free meals served at the daycare.Afterward, living on unemployment & some food stamps, I found myself in the odd predicament of being afraid to find another job and getting stuck in the same situation.
That was the second time.
There wasn’t really a third time. Even though we receive food stamps right now, I didn’t let it get to that point where I was truly hungry. I think you’ve probably figured out that when I’m using the word hungry here,I’m not talking about the little pang you feel between meals. I’m talking about a consistently empty and unfulfilled feeling in your stomach. The kind that makes you tired and slow, physically,mentally,spiritually. I never let it get that far again. There are millions of people in the US who are eligible for food stamps and don’t even apply. There are a lot more who have applied and were denied because they made “too much” . Making too much to receive help is sometimes just as bad as being in that place where you won’t go apply for whatever reason. The system has a lot of illogical rules and doesn’t serve everyone who needs fed. In most states, the amount someone is suppose to receive as court ordered child support is counted as income….even if child support is rarely received. Single parents living on one income, not making ends meet at all yet can’t qualify for help because on paper, their income is some figure based on what some slacker is supposed to pay but doesn’t.
People have told me their reasons for not applying. The shame & fear of being judged is an overwhelmingly huge factor. Sometimes the way you’re treated at the social services office by caseworkers varies greatly. Some are compassionate & helpful. Others are cruel & judgmental.The people who have had experiences in the past with government employed social workers who can’t dish out anything but contempt for the people they’re required to help won’t ever go back to apply again.
Humiliation is powerful enough to keep people from getting help to eat. That’s a damned shame. Food is a right, not a privilege. I wish I had understood that 20 years ago. I wish I had understood that it didn’t matter why I had no money to feed myself and my child, I still deserved to eat just as much as any other human being with money in their bank account.
I don’t care how unpopular that opinion is. I don’t express the opinions I have to please those people. I have them to show I care about people who need someone to give a shit about them and because I’ve been there myself. The people who gripe about there being too many people on food stamps “living high on the hog” as it is and all that bullshit about welfare fraud need to get a dose of reality. More than half the people on food stamps work, they’re just underemployed and half the people also receive them for less than 1 year. Being anti-food stamps because of rampant welfare fraud or other misconceptions is like saying that a lot of women lie about being raped. It happens so rarely that it makes the issue irrelevant.Of course it’s wrong but the percentages do not warrant an entire argument and raging stigma to be born from it.
I’m not here to talk about how bad welfare fraud is. I’m just here to speak for the larger numbers of people who need help. Living on food stamps is no picnic but it beats the hell out of not having them at all. The welfare stigmas and stereotypes need to die. I don’t know how to make this happen except to keep speaking up for the majority of people who do not fit the stereotype and myth. I encourage anyone who really needs help to go get it and refuse to give a shit about the people who will judge you.No one should ever get to that point where they weigh 85 pounds and are still too embarrassed to ask for help. If you’re treated unkindly, point out that decent humans don’t act like that.
Compassion is a sign of great intellect. If they’re not showing compassion, it proves their stupidity. If you happen to be one of the unsympathetic beings reading this, don’t get all bent out of shape because I just stated that you’re stupid. Just try to open your mind a bit and let your perceptions change a little. Remember this: Shit happens and it happens to the best of us. Someday you could be the one who needs help. Do you really want to be treated like a parasite because of it?