The Common Good

My Journey Through Food Stamps

Fear, anxiety, and secrecy marked the roughly year and a half I received federal food stamps.

Like the New Testament’s famed Samaritan woman who snuck to the well at an odd hour to get water, I tried to retrieve the sustenance my family needed outside the view of my immediate community.

I tried never to let those around me see me using the food stamp card, and certainly wouldn’t have ever told my extended family or friends. I wanted no one to know I was living outside the bounds of “acceptable” life.

I had decided to find out whether I qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) while a full-time seminary student trying to raise three teens — one of them in college. I worked jobs as much as I could around my school schedule, but in the end I never had enough money to pay bills, meet my children’s needs, and buy enough groceries for the month.

The food stamp application process was humbling. I ventured downtown to the massive social service building that warehouses all of my community’s “aid” offices. I sat for what seemed like hours, provided paperwork to a condescending social worker, and waited patiently to hear the outcome.

My award letter elicited some relief and a good deal of fear in me. I now had a guaranteed amount of money at the beginning of each month to use for food. But I also now was a user of a system that many believe enables shiftless moochers to live off the government.

After my first month on food stamps what little relief I felt was replaced with anxiety. The award amount I was given wasn’t enough to cover an entire month of food. The generic calculations the food stamp gurus had used to determine how much my family needed was far from reality.

So, I did what everyone else on food stamps does — I made the food stretch each month and found other ways to keep us eating.

Thankfully, one of the ways I made it work was to use the student food pantry at my seminary. I wasn’t happy about it; it was yet another example that I couldn’t make it in a society that expected me to be able to stock my refrigerator and pantry without issue. But I did it anyway.

Friends, my journey is not unique. Your co-workers, neighbors, and even family members are quietly struggling in much the same way as it relates to food insecurity.

And, like Jesus who offered the Samaritan woman at the well living water, you must provide those struggling in your midst with a faithful solution.

Perhaps that faithful solution is creating a condemnation-free environment where the struggling can acknowledge truthfully where they are with food insecurity. Perhaps that faithful solution is to create food sharing and meal management resources. Or, perhaps that faithful solution is to vigorously advocate that Congress not cut SNAP benefits, but instead invest in this most essential program.

Since graduating from seminary and accepting a full-time job I no longer qualify for food stamps, and I can better manage my family’s food expenses. I have, however, kept my food stamp card as a visual reminder of life’s incredible journey, the grace of a loving and merciful God, and my call as a Christian to feed the hungry.

I challenge you to implement solutions. Let it be so!

Toya Richards Jacksonis a licensed Baptist minister from Louisville, Ky. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is the owner of Grace Multimedia, LLC.

 

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