I have a secret to share. In the picture above I’m at an Empty Bowls event at UNCG where many alumni gathered to paint bowls which would be sold to raise money for the food pantry on campus. I had a lot of fun catching up with my friend and also getting to know other people. But what nobody knew was that I was not receiving adequate nutrition at the time (I ate but not a balanced meal). I’m actually writing this the week before I leave to go to Brazil and I’m praying for a miracle to pay my final bills and also have money to buy the people who volunteer to help me move something to eat (I ended up being blessed by several people my last week). The reason I didn’t share (not even with my family) until now was because of Hunger Shame.
Seeing images like the one directly above and below made my Hunger Shame more difficult to bear. You see, I’ve been working since I was fifteen and my first job was at the local Wendy’s. I was quite excited as a teenager to be working and I felt like an adult which I thought was cool at the time. In the Fall of last year, the company I had just started working a few months before had some budget cuts and I was 1 of 8 let go without warning. I didn’t think I would have trouble finding a job afterwards but unfortunately I did.
I looked high and low for work and after about three months, I finally mustered up enough courage and applied for SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program which is often referred to as Food Stamps). That day, I finally didn’t allow the Hunger Shame to take over which I technically shouldn’t have had since I had been paying into the system for 12 years. It took several hours to go through the process and I’m so ashamed to have judged the same people I was sitting with thinking “I’m not like them” yet here we were at the same place for the same exact thing. Perhaps I had this horrible thought because of my own insecurities. Yet, that thought can create Hunger Shame in other people. I didn’t know their stories just like other people didn’t know mine so nobody has the right to judge.
I only qualified for 1 month of benefits but I was so thankful for that month. But now there was a new Hunger Shame and that was actually using my SNAP card to purchase food. The reason was because I had an iPhone 6 and a Michael Kors handbag. I bought the iPhone 6 about a month before being let go and I paid less than $10 for it because I traded in my iPhone 5 (which I also got for less than $10 for trading in my iPhone 4s) at the Apple Store. My handbag was a gift from my father the year before and the last handbag I’ve had since I prefer a higher quality handbag that will last a long time than a less expensive one that won’t last as long. But if you’re in line and see that I’m using my SNAP benefits and I have these two items, you wouldn’t know my story and most likely judge me automatically.
For 1 month, I was able to eat a balanced meal with fresh fruits and veggies at least every day. I even purchased shrimp once and invited a few ladies over for a night of dinner and encouragement since I was dealing with some anxiety challenges at the time and needed the support. It was nice to feel somewhat normal and be able to invite a few friends over. The recent news about banning seafood and steak is interesting to me since I bought seafood myself with my benefits. I purchased it because it was a healthy option and wanted variety.
The other months, I would buy a small amount of fresh fruits and veggies (which felt like a luxury) once a month but the majority of my meals consisted of pasta, rice, beans, and/or potatoes. I definitely didn’t eat a balanced meal but it did make me feel full. Below is a look at my refrigerator which is how it would look the majority of the month. Although I don’t like this picture, it is a reminder of where I’ve been.
Before I close, I do want to point out Gwenyth Paltrow’s attempt at the SNAP Challenge. Many people criticized her efforts because she still lived in her otherwise comfortable lifestyle and was a bit out of touch when it came to what she should buy on her budgeted amount. But I applaud her for her efforts and bringing awareness to an issue even though she has been harshly criticized for it. She got a small glimpse of the difficulties of finding adequate nutrition on a small budget.
To close, I want to express how thankful I am to the many people who bought me a meal and shared food with me, all without truly knowing the details of what was happening in my life. You never know what somebody is facing and a kind gesture can mean all the world. My post is not meant to make people feel bad for what they’ve done in the past. It is intended to help see people in a different light going forward. Yes I know that there are people who abuse the system and it definitely has some issues, but there are people that are on it like I was and they don’t deserve the Hunger Shame.
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31 NIV)
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 NIV)
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11 NIV)
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18 NIV)