By Katie Preston, Director of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light
I spent almost an hour at Target this afternoon stressing over how to fit healthy options into my budget of $4.32 for one day. And while I kept putting stuff in my bag and then taking it back out, I decided something. Instead of telling you about the time I tried – and failed miserably – to fit the “poverty diet” into my not-so-impoverished life, I should tell you about the time that I was actually a recipient of SNAP benefits.
Earlier this year, after I lost my job, I was underemployed for six months. I was in the process of looking for a job, but all I had managed at that point was a minimum wage job that could not schedule me a consistent 40 hour work week. I was having trouble making ends meet; I had moved back into my parents’ house to reduce expenses. Because I had worked for a non-profit, I was not able to collect unemployment benefits. So, I submitted an application for SNAP benefits, and was accepted into the program.
I got my EBT card in the mail, and no real directions about how to use it. So every time I would go to the grocery store, it was a matter of figuring out what I could get with my benefits. No one explained it to me. I gambled on whether or not fresh produce was allowed (it was) or if I could get 97% fat free ground beef (I could). What I couldn’t get were other items I needed, like toothpaste and toilet paper. And every time I went to the grocery store, I went through the self-checkout line, because I was embarrassed to use my EBT card. Here I was, a 32 year old woman with a master’s degree, living in her parents’ house and shopping with food stamps.
But my point in telling you this story isn’t to get you to feel sorry for me or congratulate me on how far I’ve come with my new job. It’s to help you understand that you never know who is using SNAP. You don’t know what they look like or what their story is. It is so important that we continue to fund this program for everyone who finds it difficult to get access to one of the most basic human necessities.