Some people are critical of people getting food assistance. Other people are critical because people on food assistance buy low quality food or junk food: why should tax payers pay for someone's potato chips? And then there are the people who criticize people for spending it on organic food: I mean really, they could get so much more for their money buying non-organic and do they really think that poor people get to be choosy?
My family gets food assistance. I'm not going to explain the complex reasons for that, or justify it, or play for your sympathy.
Here's what I want to share with you:
I buy Redvines with my EBT card. (That's what food stamps are these days, a debit card.) I also buy ice cream, soda, chips, and pretty much anything else my kids request. Not large amounts of any of those items, but I do buy them. And there's a chance that you'll be behind me on one of those runs to the store where we are picking up milk and eggs, along with a sugary or salty treat for at least one of my kids.
But why? Why, when every penny counts, and at our house it does, do I buy what most people would consider "non-essentials" or "junk food."
When you have to say no to your kids ever single time they ask for anything: No, we can't buy you shoes, jeans, a coat or a bra. No, we can't go to that movie, even at the $3 theater. No, we can't buy you the next book in the series, even though the library doesn't have it. No, we can't go to that cool museum exhibit that will only be here for 2 months. As a parent you want to be able to say yes, at least once in a while.
Every year there are fewer and fewer activities and traditions that we can continue. When the kids were little we went to the fair every year. It has been 5 years since we've been able to afford the fair. The kids would love to go to the county fair. Every year the fair happens, every year we feel sad about not going.
We used to go to the local pumpkin patch to buy pumpkins. Now it costs $9 per person to get in, take they hayride out to the field, pick out your pumpkin, pet the animals, drink hot cider and generally enjoy the festivities. It's been at least 3 years since we've been able to afford to go to the pumpkin patch, maybe more.
Our friends go to shows, musicals, exhibits, and on road trips. Our friends take classes and lessons and buy cool art supplies. My kids know we can't afford to, most of the time they don't even ask anymore. And that breaks my heart.
Recently the financial stress has been eating at all of us. My girls snap at each other if we go to the grocery store and one of them asks for something extra. I spend the entire trip adding numbers to make sure we don't go over the amount on the EBT card. And I say no to every non-essential that isn't food, because the EBT card doesn't cover any non-food items. While I haven't figured out how to explain to the cats that they don't get canned cat food anymore, my kids understand the reality of living in the land of "no."
And so, on those days when my kids ask, "May we please get candy?" "We haven't had ice cream in a while, could we get some today?" I'm going to say Yes! I'm going to embrace that moment when a request doesn't have to end up in disappointment.
When we get to the end of the month and our EBT money is running low I have to start to say no even to the least expensive treats. But on the 3rd of the month, when our money shows up on our card, I get to say Yes! once again. And for a moment all is right in the world. We can fill up our cart, we can even go to Costco!
Once a cashier said in a confounded way, "You seem really happy to be getting food." YES! We are thrilled to have food. It's something we can have, it's something we need that we get, unlike other things that we need that are just a hope for some day in the future.
So go ahead and judge me if that makes you feel better about you or your life, but I refuse to feel bad about buying a treat, or two! Because, it's a bright spot on those days when we are all feeling discouraged, stressed, frustrated, and in danger of losing hope. Because of all that I can't give my kids, buying treats at the store is a big deal. And while we may eat a whole lot of potatoes, cabbage, and carrots, we will also eat a small amount of Red Vines, potato chips, and chocolate. When life is hard, those little things make a big difference.