The Face of Food Stamps

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.

1 $1174 $1805 $200
2 $1579 $2428 $367
3 $1984 $3052 $526
4 $2389 $3675 $668
5 $2794 $4298 $793
6 $3200 $4922 $952
7 $3605 $5545 $1052
8 $4010 $6168 $1202
Each Additional
(+623) (+150)

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?

Published by Kris

Jesus follower, racing wife, mom of seven, United Methodist pastor... Trying to live a life worthy of my callings.

3 thoughts on “The Face of Food Stamps

  1. Thank you. I have been on food stamps at various times. Right now, I do not qualify for food stamps. I lost my job over 18 months ago and currently receive unemployment benefits. Here’s the catch: my benefits come from Washington State because that’s where I worked, but now I live in North Carolina (because I could no longer afford the cost of living in Washington) and North Carolina’s income requirements for food stamps are significantly lower than Washington’s so NC won’t qualify me for food benefits. While I was in Washington State, I qualified for food stamps…$16 a month (which I accepted because it was something). The only way I could receive more was to quit school. When I lost my job I was 12 weeks pregnant. While I immediately applied for many jobs, by the time I started getting responses and requests for interviews, my pregnant belly was definitely showing. It’s illegal to not hire a woman simply because she is pregnant, but they don’t have to tell you that’s why they aren’t offering you the job. Add to all of this the fact that my husband abandoned us when I was 7 months pregnant, so now there is no 2nd income. Even with all of these obstacles, I still am far more fortunate than many other families: my mom opened up her home to my daughter and I here in North Carolina, rent-free. My grandparents live only 4 blocks away and provide free childcare while I go to school (I had completed my nursing school prerequisites in Washington but RCCC won’t accept any of my credits so I have to start all over again). My daughter is able to receive WIC benefits. She also gets Medicaid.

    The circumstances that put people on foodstamps are often very complicated. It’s not always a black and white, cut and dry situation. The system is flawed, but more importantly our perception of those on the program is flawed. I admit, even through these experiences, I still hold some of the prejudices you described in your post. I hate going to the Social Services offices (including WIC) because I don’t like being associated with “those people”. Admittedly there still are many of those “stereotypical” folks on various social services but especially nowadays the majority are people just like everyone else who are just trying to feed their families without having to choose between food and electricity. Thank you for keeping us humble and aware.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I think if more people shared, we would definately have changed perceptions and perhaps a little more compassion. Blessings.

  2. Hi,

    I liked your article. It was compassionate.

    After working 45 years for the disadvanted, I fell to a second cancer. I was fired from my management position by an ‘at-will’ employer who saw my tumor on my neck. Tx for the Cancer swallowed all savings, IRA, and I had a stroke. So, I’m now in senior HUD housing, on Food Stamps and coping as a senior. I am at peace.

    With food prices skyrocketing, this past week I was informed that my $147 in Food Stamps would be cut by 52% or so. I now will be alloted $72. for the month. I’m not really sure how I will make it. May God have mercy on the poor.

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