With the author’s permission, I am posting a friend’s Facebook post. I’m editing some of the text to protect my friend’s privacy. Also, I meant to post this a few days ago but never pressed “published”. The post is in blue.
I’ve worked at the (Federal agency) for (x) years now. We run the SNAP (formerly food stamps) Program, WIC, School Lunch and Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and several smaller programs that feed low-income Americans. However, my research had dealt mostly with (other aspects of the nutrition program). Basic poverty research is not really in my area of expertise.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I have never participated in any of our programs. However, due to the government shutdown, yesterday I got to experience something similar. Though we are good for a few more weeks, when (spouse) found out that the Capital Area Food Bank was distributing food boxes to furloughed federal employees, like me, I decided to go get one, partly to see what it was like be on the receiving end of such a line. It was a profound experience.
Since it was at the Giant Food on (location) and we normally shop at Giant, I had a list of other things I needed to buy. When I got there, only half an hour after distribution began, the line looked short. However, when I went to get into it, one of the volunteers told the line started inside. That made sense considering the cold. Inside, the first person in line told me to walk the other way to get into line. It turns out that the line started in the middle of the front, ran back one side, and ended half way along the back. And it was still getting longer.
Immediately, I forgot about the other things I needed to get and hurried to the back of the line. I kept wondering if I was going to have to wait in line for hours and find out the food ran out before I got there. In reality, it would not have made a big difference, right now, if it did before I got there, but the feeling still came on like a tsunami.
I ended up talking to a retired federal employee who had come as moral support for her daughter, who I found out, has a very good position at one of the departments where many people are working without pay, though she herself was also furloughed. Though she did not say so, the daughter, who had never needed any kind of assistance before, looked a little embarrassed. It did not help that her daughter was holding her 5 year old teddy bear that was kind of beat up.
Passersby did ask what the line was about, and the responses were mixed. Some people did say things like, “Damn wall”. But at least one said, “Oh, them,” with venom in his voice. It’s the way I hear some people talk about the poor.
The box was nothing to write home about–canned food that could make a decent chicken pot pie with stuffing mix and cranberry sauce, along with a bag of potatoes and onions, some of which were already mostly bad when we looked at them. But overall it could make two meals.
As I was driving away, I realized that I had completely forgotten the other items on my list. So I went to the Giant were I usually shop. When I was there, I economized. I just got the basics we needed, dairy and produce. While people looking into my cart would probably have thought that we were eating healthy, I could not stop wondering if people were judging me because I was just standing in a food line. In three hours, my mindset for shopping had completely changed.
Everyone, please remember that there are hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are sitting at home furloughed who just want to get back to work and do their jobs. There are also hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are working without pay. Let your representatives know that there are things we need to do and you want us doing our jobs.
However, at the same time, remember that there are people who stand in line every week at food banks hoping that the food does not run out before they get to the front. Sometimes the only food available is things that many Americans would not eat. And remember that often people make comments about them as they stand there.
I’m still a conservative and believe that individual action is the best way to fight poverty and invite you to do the same. If you know someone is struggling, invite them for dinner or a BBQ. Make donations to your local food bank of food you like to eat, not stuff that you don’t want. And most of all, remember that many people in poverty are there for little fault of their own. They are single mothers who husbands walked out on them. They are people who had good jobs in factories that closed. They are people who weren’t all that good in school and haven’t been able to get a good paying job in the tech economy.