The Common Good

'I'm on Food Stamps. Don't Hate Me For It."

Grocery store image by Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images
Grocery store image by Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images

I am on food stamps. This will surprise almost everyone who knows me. I have hidden it from friends, from family, from classmates.

I use self-checkout at the grocery store so I don’t have to face judgment from the cashiers. I read countless posts on Facebook and receive political emails telling me that being on food stamps makes me a degenerate, someone who is dependant and useless. I hear about how I should be kicked off of food stamps so I won’t be so lazy and will get a job.

At the time the economy crashed, I was studying to be a chiropractor. My (now ex-) husband was laid off from his good job. It took him over a year and a half to find a new job. During that time we lost our house and had to declare bankruptcy. Our marriage fell apart.

I’m now a single mom struggling to make ends meet. I was faced with the decision to quit school and go back to work and pray that somehow I’d be able to make the payments on more than $100,000 in student loans or to press on with my education. I prayed about it. I applied for aid. And through the grace of God, I received food stamps.

I live on $60 a week. This pays for my gas for my car to commute and for any personal items not covered by food stamps. Silly frivolous things like soap, shampoo, toilet paper, dish soap and, at times, a cup of coffee from the bookstore. I don’t have cable, a telephone, Netflix, a DVR or a gaming system.

In the last two months,I bought one pair of dress pants because I am required to dress professionally at school, a half-dozen pairs of underwear and a package of socks. If I didn’t receive food stamps, I would have to somehow feed myself and my son out of that $60 a week I have budgeted to make it until my next student loans come. I live in a one-bedroom house. I sleep in the living room, allowing my son to have the small bedroom. Beyond that, I have a kitchen and a bathroom. I do not have a basement.

And yet so many people comment about how people like me take advantage of the system. That we have big-screen TVs — my only TV is 10 inches — and other expensive items. How we are just lazy.

This trimester, I am taking 11 classes. I am in class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. After school, I spend a little time with my son, make dinner and put my son to bed. Then I study until I collapse in bed. I get up at 6 the next morning to put my son on the bus and start my day all over again.

Studying to be a doctor is not easy. It is not lazy. And for me, it is a calling. It is a dream. And it’s a future.

I’m not writing this to ask for support. I am so blessed to be able to make ends meet and continue my education. I am writing this because I’m tired of the hate. I’m tired of being embarrassed. And I’m tired of the ignorance. Unless you’ve lost everything, you cannot possibly understand what drives someone to accept food stamps. How hard it was for them. How they cried when they submitted the application. How they are made to feel ashamed for accepting help.

You are entitled to your opinion. I respect that. But please consider my story the next time you are tempted to post or email hateful jokes; the next time you discuss with a friend how everyone on food stamps is taking advantage of the system.

I never imagined this would be my story. I was an A student, top of my class. I went to college, got a job and continued my education toward a post-graduate degree.

I did everything I was supposed to do to have the bright, amazing future I was promised by my teachers in school. Life doesn’t always turn out the way it does in storybooks.

And I was one of the charmed, lucky ones growing up. I can only imagine the lives that some people on food stamps have endured.

For the record, current estimates show that 3 to 5 percent of people on food stamps are on them fraudulently. Most are like me, enduring a difficult time in their lives.

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors. Not to ridicule and hate them for needing help.

To love.

Vicki Jones earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and currently is working on a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. She is mom to an amazing 7-year old son and is  passionate about nutrition and the power of food to heal the body. Jones and her son live in Downers Grove, Ill. This post originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.

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