When I was a child, my family relied on SNAP at different times, but I was completely oblivious to this fact. We always had good, healthy food available. We purchased in bulk through a natural food co-op, where my dad worked. We only bought things second-hand. But we never went hungry.
And while I was seriously embarrassed to wear hand-me-down clothes, and acutely aware of things my friends could afford to do but we could not, we were never homeless. We might have moved to a new town when I was a few months old and lived in a tent for a few weeks before finding a house to move into, but were we really poor?
If there’s such a thing, we were privileged poor people.
I always had the sense that our poverty was somehow a choice. Now I know that it wasn’t. But my parents are both white, educated, and grew up middle-class. They were the hippies of the 1980s and they chose to live with less. My mom wanted her kids, all six of us, to have freedom and to experience a world different from that of her conservative Sandwich upbringing. She chose to home school (or, as she put it, to “unschool”) us. She chose to raise us on a vegan diet and, as much as possible, purchase only organic food.
I often forget that we struggled, and still struggle. Or rather, I somehow forget that some people don’t worry about money, while most other people do. I now know that I just feel like most other people do. It’s a convenient forgetfulness, because it might otherwise be painful to live in a community like ours, where the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing.
These are my thoughts in a week when it was my job to compile a list of free food resources (see page 15). It also happens to be the week in which Santa was sighted in several places, touching down, apparently, to survey the situation in our towns and pick up some lists written by children about gifts they hope for.
I noticed something while researching my list. Many programs allow for the kind of obliviousness to grown-up worry that characterized my childhood. There is something humane in a community’s ability to provide for those in need without requiring formalities or proof of status as a “client.”
Here, we are rich in compassion and generosity. So, I’m writing this on my wish list: Let’s never let anyone feel ashamed of needing a little help. Let’s normalize both helping and receiving assistance. Let’s eliminate food insecurity with a robust social safety net, and allow kids to grow up oblivious to the fact that they’re poor.