I get nutrition assistance (a.k.a. food stamps). It’s not a comfortable thing to do. Personally, it’s something I believe in, but I know what a lot of people think about “people who take handouts.” I’ve had more than one friend make disparaging comments about people on food stamps before I stopped them by telling them I am on food stamps.
And so when I say it’s not a comfortable thing, I mean it makes me feel embarrassed every single time I pull out my SNAP card.
I pray that the person in line behind me doesn’t know what it is. (Although let’s be honest…if they knew, they would likely also be on food stamps and also be super nosy.)
And if I’m buying organic meat, you better bet I pay with my credit card so I’m not one of those people…you know, the ones who eat lobster every night with their food stamps.
But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about me.
This is about Teresa.
I’ve been to the DES office way more times than I can count. Obviously way more times than I ever wanted to (which was none….duh…).
My experiences have run the gamut from being treated quite poorly to decent. One time I was told that they preferred for us to keep our kids home (because my toddler was complaining about having to sit still), and I looked at the mom sitting next to me with her baby. I’m sure we both had the same thought: If I could afford a babysitter, do you think I would be here?
The application process is long and complicated and we always try to get to the office 30 minutes before it opens so we can be first in line. Most of the time, you sit there for 4+ hours, only to be led to a computer to fill out the same form you already filled out which you didn’t understand the first time you did it.
But this past week, I only sat for a few minutes before a woman named Teresa took me back. I breathed a sigh of relief as she walked me past the dreaded computers (where you have to reapply online and then talk to someone on the phone…who is literally down the hall from you) and into the back room.
There she asked me questions, got all my information, and gave me the decision.
All with such kindness and respect that she made what was usually a stressful and unpleasant time go by quickly and easily.
But most importantly was this. I asked her if there was a limit to how long you could be on food stamps. “Will they kick us off at some point?”
“No,” she replied. “As long as you need it and keep your applications up to date, you’ll get assistance.”
“Not that I want to be on food stamps forever!” I hurried on to say. I didn’t want her to think I was a mooch, like so many people assume. “Obviously I want to make more money! But I just want to know so I’ll be prepared…”
“Well there’s nothing wrong with being on assistance if you need it.”
Very offhand. I’m sure she didn’t even think twice about what she was saying. She was staring at the computer, trying to figure out the correct answer to another question.
But I was blinking away tears. The truth is, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being on assistance if you need it. I have always happily paid my taxes and wanted them to go towards people who needed help.
But I had never been the one who needed help before.
It feels completely different when the shoe is on the other foot.
I walked out of the office feeling optimistic and like maybe things would actually turn around, rather than my usual, “As God is my witness I will never have to go there again!” Which I had said many times and it never seemed to do a thing.
Regardless of my circumstances or the amount of money in my checking account, Teresa treated me with kindness, compassion, and respect.
And that made all the difference.
Wherever you are, whatever you do, remember that the kindness, respect, and compassion you show to a stranger could change their day.
And one changed day could change a life
p.s. If the person who needs your compassion right now is YOU, here is a 10 minute guided meditation for self-compassion.