A Christmas-season trip to the Menominee county food bank.

St. Stephen's Lutheran Church ELCA, Stephenson, MI

St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church ELCA, Stephenson, MI

Today I made a trip to the Mid-County food bank, which is run by ministers of various churches in mid-Menominee county. The actual location where you go to pick up the food is in a Lutheran-ELCA church in the town of Stephenson.

The food bank has changed a lot from the last time I saw it. They now have a marked entrance to the food bank on the side of the church building, with a large Food Bank sign. Since the side of the church faces the road on which Stephenson’s one grocery store is located, I’ll bet a lot of people who didn’t know about the food bank know about it now from reading the sign on a trip to the grocery store.

They also have remodeled the area where the food bank is held. I think the food is still kept on shelves in the same area, but the waiting area is now in the same room where the door to the food bank is, and you now don’t have to take a number.

They have changed some policies. They now require you to have a photo ID with your address on it to get food there. But they are accommodating if you happen to have misplaced your photo ID. They will accept anything that shows your address, which proves you live in the area the food bank serves. (They don’t want you to collect food at their food bank and then at the one in Marinette.)

They also have a prominent sign that each household may come to the food bank only once a month. You get a bag of food for each household member, so if you are on food stamps and can’t feed your family on the shrinking food stamp amount, you get about enough to fill in the gap when your food stamp money runs out.

A little known secret of the food bank— they get lots and lots of dried beans and other dried legumes (lentils, peas and beans are legumes). And since most poor people don’t know how to cook dried beans and turn them into food, a lot gets thrown out when the expiration date rolls around. (They are not allowed to hand out any expired food— even though I’ve eaten lentils ten years expired and they made perfectly fine soup.)

Since the food bank now has some large freezers in the back, they had some frozen ground venison to give out. My friend Rev. John Lindt who is on the board of the food bank told me how they get the venison. When deer are doing major damage to the crops of a local farmer, the farmer can get a special permit from the DNR to hunt the offending deer. The farmer may donate it to the food bank, which gets the carcass processed and frozen.

At this particular food bank, the customers are not allowed directly in the room where the food is. There is a service window, and the volunteers fill your bag. They ask you what kind of food you can use. I told them I was on a special diet for health reasons so they would understand why I couldn’t take the hamburger helper or pasta or other high-carb options. They actually brought food items over to me so I could read the label on some things before they put it in my bag.

One nice thing is that they also give out a roll of toilet paper and one of paper towels. For poor people on the various forms of government aid, this is essential. Food stamps don’t pay for anything but food. And your SSI disability or welfare check is only meant for paying your home heating, electricity, rent or property tax, and other things like that. There is nothing given for things like paper products or soap and laundry detergent.

Most of the people I’ve seen on my visits to the food bank are behaving well. But all of them are going through a lot of negative emotions. Going to a food bank, like going on welfare programs, is absolute proof that you have fallen out of the middle class. It makes a person fearful, depressed, and even angry. Mostly angry at fate, or at yourself for your mistakes and failures, but sometimes I am sure people transfer their anger towards the food bank volunteers and their rules. So if you ever see a food bank recipient who gets snippy with the food bank volunteers or bitches about the rules, don’t assume that all poor people are ungrateful, lazy-ass bums. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in pain. (I made a point of saying thank you— twice— to make up for those who are too depressed to say it.)

Now, if a certain type of person reads this post they may decide I am an evil lazy bum for going to a food bank when I have access to the internet. But really— don’t people know you can get internet access through public libraries? I’ve read about an actual homeless woman who kept a blog, turned it into a book, and had it sell well enough to let her stop being homeless. And there is also the fact that some food bank bums have relatives or friends who pay for internet access devices and service. So don’t get so judgmental. Anyone can lose a job. Anyone might be or become disabled. Anyone, then, can be down and out and need the help of the kind people who donate to the food bank. So let’s just be grateful that there are some out there who still care for the less fortunate— as the Bible commands— without getting all judgmental about it— as the Bible forbids.

Advertisements

Grocery Shopping on Food Stamps

food-stampsIf you lavish your food on the hungry
    and satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness,
    and your gloom shall become like midday;

Isaiah 58:10 NABRE (Catholic Bible)

How do you shop for groceries when you are on Food Stamps (A US poverty program that provides benefits for food only)?

It’s not easy. Especially when you realize that while food prices are skyrocketing, Food Stamp benefit amounts are decreasing.

At this point I’ll admit, I’m on Food Stamps myself. I have Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder), and I’m on SSI disability though I should qualify for Social Security disability as the adult child of a worker, but I foolishly spend many years trying to become an employed citizen instead of a disability case (in the govt’s opinion.)

When I first got on Food Stamps a few years back, I got $200 a month and had a hard time making that stretch to the whole month. Now after some benefit cuts I think my last Food Stamp amount was $160 (it varies for no real reason) and there is a new cut in Michigan yet to come.

For people on disability, this is supposed to be your whole food budget for the month. The monetary benefits are just for things like rent or property tax, home heating, electricity and such. (You are supposed to somehow get soap, detergents, new second-hand clothes and replacement appliances out of the air.)

So how do you cope with the Food Stamp life?

Get Over the Shame

It’s horrible and oppressing to be on Food Stamps or any poverty program. The first time I went shopping to my local grocery store with my Food Stamp card, I couldn’t bear the thought of the grocery clerk knowing I was a bum on welfare. But I had no choice but to go through it.

And then, there was the first time I bought frozen shrimp or a cheap cut of steak— important because I’m doing low-carb. There are all these rumors about welfare recipients buying steak every night. (But then we’d have to go without food for 3 weeks in the month.)

Then there are the faux conservatives and faux Christians who love to post pictures of fat women holding little kids and claiming they are Food Stamp/welfare recipients, and suggesting that such women be shot or at least starved for daring to be fat while on welfare.

Face it folks, lots of poor people are fat BECAUSE they are poor and eat a lot of high-carb cheap food like ramen noodles, rice-a-roni and Hamburger Helper (perhaps without the hamburger). Eating like this makes you fat, and it damages your ability to handle carbs. It causes you to crave MORE carbs. And since the government’s solution to overweight is to eat MORE complex carbs, most fat people (rich or poor) can’t fix their weight problem even if they had unlimited access to ‘diet’ food.

Have a Plan

You can’t shop like you always have while on Food Stamps or a tight budget. You can’t buy what you like. Here are some rules that have helped me:

  1. Go on a low-carb way-of-life. Go to a thrift shop and buy an old Atkins diet book, or look up the basics online. This way of eating kills your appetite after a few days.
  2. No beverages. No soda, juices, coffee drinks, milk, milk substitutes (soy ‘milk’). Tea from tea bags is OK if you reuse the teabags (I get 3-4 servings out of mine most days, sometimes 5).
  3. No candy, chips, cookies or other snack foods.
  4. Read labels. Sometimes store brands have the same ingredients, sometimes not. A generic stevia sweetener at Family Dollar contains maltodextrin (a sugar) while the Truvia national brand and the Walmart store brand lack this. Go for the Walmart brand!
  5. Get it a good rut. I have a low-carb tuna casserole recipe (well, 2) that I could eat nearly every day. So I stock up on the ingredients I need for it when they are on sale or when I can get to a Walmart.
  6. Drink lots of water. If your tap water is nasty, get a filter pitcher like Brita or Zerowater. Sometimes when you think you are hungry, you really are just thirsty.
  7. If you are not a small child, go with 2 meals a day. (If you are on low-carb, this won’t make you hungry.) Or have one or even two minimalist meals and then a good larger meal.
  8. Consider other resources: a family member with money who invite you to dinner sometimes, food from a garden, picking dandelion and clover from your (unsprayed) yard for cooked greens, and food banks.
  9. At the end of the month, if you have been frugal enough with your Food Stamps and have some money left over, you can buy a small something that you’ve been craving, such as a bottle of diet soda or low-carb snack food.

Food Banks

What fresh hell is this? It’s what you have to consider when you are poor and/or disabled. I was lucky enough that my therapist, who is also a pastor, works with the local mid-county food bank and he was able to encourage me to go.

This is what the food banks in my area are like: they are restricted to residents of the local area only, so there is only one food bank I’m allowed to go to.

They have mostly unhealthy food I can’t eat like cereals, often sugary cereals, Hamburger Helper, rice-a-roni, even ramen noodles (Please, never give ramen noodles to a food bank! They are cheap enough most poor people can buy them on their own if they really want to abuse their bodies with them.)

Canned tuna, when they have it, they limit to one to a ‘customer’. One day I got a frozen ham, another time some frozen venison. They get venison from deer hunted on crop damage permits. My therapist arranged for me to get a whole deer through the food bank once, which is a big help except I’m only beginning to learn to cook venison.

Conclusion:

So, this is my way of shopping on Food Stamps. I hope it helps people in need, and awakens compassion in people who are financially more blessed.

And if you are the sort of person who is angry at evil ‘welfare’ recipients including the disabled, please spare the effort of telling me I am lazy, that my autism spectrum disorder means I’m a spoiled child and my parents didn’t spank me enough, and that I ought to get a job EVEN IF I’d lose my Medicaid and I’d have to do without medical care and prescriptions for my kidney failure and diabetes, and die.

(I think God has a purpose for my life and don’t want to commit suicide at this time. Or ever. Even if it would save the govt money for me to be dead— the savings would only go to more vacations for Obama anyway.)

So if you are that angry guy, don’t bother post hate-y comments that will just get deleted, and read your Bible. I’d suggest starting with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.).

Real Conservatives don’t Demonize Welfare Mothers

mother-on-welfare-300x297Recently I mistakenly ‘liked’ a supposedly conservative Facebook page, only to find posts which spoke about ‘welfare mothers’ in ‘that tone’. Honestly, I thought the conservative movement had outgrown that years ago, back when we started getting serious about prolife.

Poor women who accept government benefits are not the enemy. True conservatives know that, because most of them have had experience with helping out poor women, if only through donating imperishable food through their church to the local food pantry.

The thing conservatives love about welfare mothers is this: they didn’t choose to kill their children by abortion, even that’s what society pressures them to do. Welfare mothers are the heroines of the prolife movement.

It’s better when poor women can find jobs good enough that they no longer qualify for government aid. But at a time when good jobs are hard to find, many poor mothers won’t make it. Other poor mothers are restricted because they may have special needs children who claim a large share of their time that could otherwise go to working. It’s cheaper for the government to have the mother give this extra care than to provide a specialized caregiver at a high wage to let the mother go to work at a low wage! Plus, the mother cares more and may enhance her child’s chances of becoming a productive adult.

Some people imagine folks with Food Stamp benefits eating steak and lobster dinners every night. Not true. Food Stamp benefits are low enough that it’s hard to feed yourself and your family for a month on them without cutting in to the money that ought to be saved for rent, electricity bills, and laundry detergent. Food Stamp benefits do not go up when the price of food skyrockets. In fact, they may fluctuate downward for no apparent reason.

Some people look at pictures of fat poor people from the inner city and say ‘those people aren’t missing any meals! They aren’t going hungry’. But they are. Poor people eat cheap food, which is mostly starch— ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, Rice-a-roni, Hamburger Helper without the hamburger, microwave popcorn (yes, it’s a meal). Starchy foods— high carbohydrate foods— make you fat. They also make you hungry, since they cause your blood sugar to shoot up quickly and then crash down again. So people eat more, if there is anything available— usually more cheap starchy food for the Food Stamp recipient.

Poor people may not often literally starve to death on the streets, but they develop diseases related to the poor-people diet, including type-2 diabetes, which can kill you if you don’t take care of yourself. Poor people cannot afford the good diet that would be involved in taking care of themselves.

Conservatives have compassion for the poor and are the chief donors to charities that provide real aid to the poor. They are far less likely to try to mobilize the poor for their own political benefit than the other side is, however. You go eat a meal at a soup kitchen founded by conservative Christians, they are NOT going to demand that you sign up to vote Republican or participate in an anti-Obama rally.

Ignorant people who drag out that tired-old ‘welfare queen’ stereotype are not helping the conservative cause. Not only that, they are actively opposing the prolife cause, since part of the anti-welfare-queen dogma is that every poor woman is morally obliged to use contraceptive/abortifacient birth control pills/IUDs, with surgical abortion for a backup. (Since young people are usually poor at first— even if college grads— this means that if this rule is followed, most folks will never have kids because by the time they can afford it, they are no longer fertile. Resulting in a worker shortage which wouldn’t be good for the economy.)

So let’s all be real conservatives and help out the poor women on welfare. Give to the food banks. Support employment training programs for the poor, especially ones run by private citizens and not clueless government agencies. And let those welfare-queen falsehoods die a natural death.