Adventures in food stamps: a personal story

on November 12 | in Blog, Living, Religion, Theology | by | with No Comments

I have never been on food stamps. Sonya, my wife, was raised in a family that has never been on food stamps.

A while back I was underemployed for a period of almost two years. My income was drastically reduced. Twice during that time we strongly considered at least applying for food stamps (now called SNAP–Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The second time I had already found the office address for making the trip to apply. Both times we decided not to apply. We do not have the experience of being looked at with disdain by other shoppers who wonder if we are lazy, criminal, or “just poor.” Or those other shoppers who examine the groceries of such folks for any non-generic items.

We did enough research to know the stamps have been traded for reloadable cards. Rather than a book of tear off sheets, recipients pay just like using a debit card. Folks around the check-out line who are not paying attention may not even realize the difference.

Which brings me to a story of Sonya yesterday at our local Aldi grocery store (a story she did not want to to relate, but here we are).

The lady in front of Sonya, whose groceries were being scanned, was old enough to be in the social security range. Sonya watched as they removed item after item from her order, rerunning her card to no avail. Soon it became clear the woman did not have any money on her card.

It was about this time Sonya realized she was trying to pay with her SNAP card. She heard the customer and cashier discussing what day of the month and that the card should already have been refilled for use. It dawned on the lady trying to buy the groceries that no matter how many groceries were removed she could not pay for what was left.

As Sonya watched these events unfold the Holy Spirit prompted her to include the lady’s purchase in our own. So she said to the cashier, “I’ll get hers. Just include it with my groceries.”

After the expected quizzical looks from customer and cashier, the customer expressed her profound appreciation. After the transaction was completed she and Sonya hugged several times, near tears. Sonya said, “God will meet your needs and He’ll meet ours.” About then the cashier let loose with “That’s right! Amen!” and a small revival was had in the grocery story.

As they were getting ready to leave the lady then asked, “Where do you go to church?” After Sonya told her, she said, “Well, I was about to invite you to mine.”

I relate this story primarily to highlight generosity and the blessing of following God. But there is another component.

When talking about the poor we often hear the argument, “It is not the responsibility of the government to help the poor. It is the responsibility of the church.” It sounds good, right? It sounds right, right?

But is not the church (or churches) made up of people? Of we who claim the name of Jesus? How much helping of the poor do we really do? If all income taxes were to fall away overnight, would Christ followers increase their offerings or increase their possessions? Would we buy pants, shirts, gloves, and food for those in need, or empty our own closets of perfectly good threads to make room for armloads from our favorite clothier?

feeding the hungry and homeless

Would we feed the hungry and homeless? [Image credit]

In a conversation with a homeless person yesterday, Sonya found out his greatest need is for thermal underwear (as he stands in the cold selling newspapers). If we fill that need it may mean that one of us does without something we would like to have. Just how long would we live like that?

Would churches reallocate their budgetary funds away from buildings and property that house the faithful once or twice a week to construct, fund, and staff shelters for the long-term and transitional homeless? Organize and provide job training or job opportunities? You know, the stuff some say the government should be doing?

If churches were suddenly awash in cash from generous members would they join together with other churches to supplement the food needs in their community, or just hire additional staff to do the ministry the members should already be doing?

In short, would we “do justice,” or merely do business as usual?

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