A friend of mine started a conversation the other day about people on food stamps. It all started because of a snow day. You see, when there is an “inclement weather day” at schools across the country, the children who are on free breakfast/lunch, don’t have that option for food those days. So in response, my friend and his church decided to see if families in that system needed food during the snow days. Many children who receive free school lunch also receive food stamps.
As part of the conversation, we were asked what percentage of the people called (remember, these are families whose kids receive free lunch at school and are most likely on food stamps), accepted the assistance offered – as much food as they needed, no questions asked. What is your guess? 53%, 9%, 88% or 37%?
You see, so many of us have an idea of what the face of food stamps looks like. Some of us see people who are lazy and don’t want to work. Some of us see women who have more babies just to get more benefits. Some of us see drug addicts who sell their benefits to get money for drugs. Some of us see people just trying to milk the system and get all they can from whoever they can.
For some of us, we see the faces of people we love and know.
I see a woman whose husband lost his job 3 years ago. He’s been trying to find work, but in this economy in his field, there is not much. They’ve lost their home and moved in with parents. They are careful with their money, have cashed out any savings they had and there is just not enough to put food on the table. They have a daughter.
I see a friend whose family has been dealing with unemployment so long that unemployment benefits have run out. Her husband has found work, but in this economy, it’s not steady and doesn’t have many hours. They are struggling to keep the home they love. They are slowly selling off their possessions in order to pay the bills. They have two children.
I see another family trying to follow the will of God in their lives. After leaving a job that was no longer healthy or good, they lived off savings and credit cards while looking for work and helping care for very ill family members. They have moved in with family and now four generations are living in one home. Work was still hard to come by and people needed to eat. They have returned to work and honestly reported that they no longer need the benefits. They have one child.
I know of another man who actually was selling some of his benefits. Not for drugs. Not for alcohol. He sold them so that he had money to pay his utilities – heat, water. He went to federal prison for selling his benefits.
I know of another family who uses some of their benefits to help out friends with food. These friends are struggling but don’t qualify for assistance. That family could go to prison for their generosity.
You see, these are the faces of food stamps. Honest families that have been hit with life circumstances beyond their control. Families that don’t want help, but have kids that need to eat. Families that are all colors of the rainbow. Sure, there are some that abuse the system. There always will be. Jesus told us “the poor you will always have with you” (Matt. 26:11). But let’s not judge those who we mistakenly think we understand.
Many of us are just one job loss away from food stamps. One bad decision away from losing the security we think we have.
So how does that snow day story end? From my friend…
“Tuesday, my secretary called the 55 homes representing about 200 people (mostly children) to ask if anybody needed food this week. They could come to the church and pick up as many bags of groceries as they needed. No questions asked.
Only 5 persons said they needed food. None of those other persons took the opportunity to come get food which they didn’t need. They could have. But they did not.
Just like when we had our sanctuary full of clothes for people to take… people only took what they needed. No more… no less.
This story is to dispel the myth that all these people are abusing the system to support their drug habits, etc.”
So the answer?
Is that what you guessed? Are you surprised? What thoughts and emotions are tumbling inside of you right now?
Would you like a challenge? Here is the table of maximum benefits for the state that I live in (not all families receive maximum benefits). How does your family compare (include ALL food – eating out and groceries)? If you are over, see if you can live off that amount for a month.
130% MAXIMUM GROSS INCOME LIMIT
|200% MAXIMUM GROSS INCOME LIMIT||MAXIMUM BENEFIT
I want to leave you thinking about the faces of food stamps. I want to challenge you to have more compassion next time you’re at the grocery store and the person in front of you uses that voucher or that food stamp card. What is your immediate response? What is the response of compassion and love? Think about what life circumstances brought them to that point.
Now what are you going to do about it?