Confessions of a Food Stamp Recipient


I admit it. I used food stamps. There. I’ve said it.

The last couple days I have read in the news that politicians in Kansas want to put a limit on where public assistance aid can be used. Lawmakers in Missouri are considering a bill that would prevent food stamps recipients from buying steak, seafood, cookies, chips and energy drinks. I’ve read comments from others making judgmental remarks of people who are on welfare. When people make derogatory comments to me about welfare recipients, I cringe because that was me.

I had been a stay-at-home mom with my three children, 11, 7 and 5. My husband and I had marital and financial struggles and in 1999 when he left for the last time and our divorce became final, my struggles escalated.  I found a full time job and in addition had financial assistance from my parents, family, friends and church. I received little child support and there were long periods when no child support contributions were made.

I started working full-time, but my income was still at poverty rate as a single mother with three young children. It finally came to the point that I had to make an appointment at the welfare office to apply for food stamps and financial aid.

During this difficult time I continued journaling as I always have done. It was a means for me to release my sorrow and despair. My journal entry excerpt dated Tuesday, August 17, 1999 reads:

“Now I have experienced the feeling of total humiliation and embarrassment! Last week I applied for food stamps. Other people have been suggesting to me that I do that, but I had said that is one of the last things that I would ever do.

Fortunately the caseworker I was assigned to was understanding and made me feel less uncomfortable. I told her I didn’t want to be there. But she said I’m the person for who food stamps are for. I’m temporarily going through a tough time and need help until I get ahead.”

Three months later on November 9, 1999 I journaled the following while sitting in the waiting room at the welfare office in North Hammond:

“I never thought I would be in this setting. I’m sitting in a dirty, green vinyl chair. I had to brush all the crumbs off of the chair before I sat down, I hear a baby crying. I see applicants dressed in shorts, jeans and t-shirts with stains on them. Women with unbrushed hair pulled tightly back in hair clips and pony tails. There is a mixture of black and white men and women.

The gray haired, heavy set, security guard is sitting at an old metal desk in the waiting area. I hear jingling of keys and garbled radio messages as a young, thin security guard is toying with his keys and walking the halls. Three female office workers are talking and laughing behind a glass encased reception area.

This welfare office is located in an old bank building in a run down industrial area on the north side of the city. This room is so dirty. There are crackers and crumbs on the floor. Lights in the ceiling are out.  Dirt on the walls and vents. Dirty windows. Desks are filthy. Milk from baby bottles has spilled down the sides and fronts of desks lined up against the walls. An old clock that doesn’t work is still mounted to the wall.

A young mother is going out the door with a crying baby on her hip, and the mother is yelling at the baby to shut up. They leave and the older security guard says it’s terrible that these babies are having babies.

I had to wait forty minutes. Finally I am called to the second floor to meet my caseworker. The professionally dressed woman came around the maze of cubicles to direct me to her cubicle. Her desk was completely covered with high stacks of papers. She just piled mine on top so she could pull my file up on her computer.

I left that building drained and discouraged. This is not the life I am used to or want to remain. I feel so defeated. I have little life left in me. I don’t trust people anymore.”

I firmly believe that politicians need to walk in the shoes of the common person.  Let them experience the difficulties and disgust that low-income people receive. Let them experience the humiliation given applying for and using food stamps. I had paper food stamps at the time and there were many cashiers who gave an attitude of disgust that I was using them and what I was buying. Honestly, I never purchased so much food before. But at least this was one less issue I did not have to have sleepless nights over wondering how I was going to pay for it.

I was on food stamps for two years. I eventually found a job in Chicago that paid enough to no longer be eligible for food stamps. I was on the road to financial recovery. Financial struggles never end for most people no matter how much your income, but I was no longer needing governmental help. I’m thankful for what was provided. Sometime later I found a book of food stamps that had a few dollars left in it that I had not used.  I did not need them anymore, but I kept it to always remind me of that time.

The good part of this story is that you can always make yourself better with struggles you go through. I have learned that there may be hardships and obstacles in your life, but if you keep your faith, keep your determination and keep the love for others, you can make it through that difficult time. It also helps you to understand what others are going through and to have compassion. As you go through life, you realize how blessed you are with the simple things.

Now is the time to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of difficult times and experiences in your life and what you have learned from them.  Start with the following questions:

What was your biggest challenge that you faced?

  • What led you to this challenge?
  • How did you overcome it?
  • How have you become a better person from experiencing this challenge?
  • What life lesson did you learn from going through this challenge?


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