I am the one in 10

Anonymous Spartan

Approximately 10.5 percent of students in the Pleasant Valley School District qualify for free or reduced lunches.

This is a staggering statistic for a group of schools constantly stereotyped as “privileged.” When thinking of the general student population at Pleasant Valley, one word comes to mind for most: fortunate. While students are provided with many opportunities within the school halls, outside of the building, many face financial hardship that takes a toll on everyday life. 

Below, an anonymous Pleasant Valley student shares her personal story with poverty and the benefits she and her family have received through government welfare programs, specifically SNAP. With all of the controversy surrounding the nutritional assistance program, this student hopes to share a perspective that isn’t voiced much, especially in the Pleasant Valley community…

Hearing my friends- the people I trust- talk about cutting welfare spending, SNAP especially, feels like a punch in the gut. Essentially, what they’re saying is that my mother, my father,  my siblings and I deserve to live in abject poverty because of circumstances outside of our control. You talk about cutting away our safety nets like it’s downgrading the dog food. You talk about how much the government spends on “lazy people”.

I heard one student say that if people couldn’t afford to feed their children, they shouldn’t have them. My mother got pregnant in high school. Are you saying, for all of your talk of pro life, she should’ve aborted me? What about my sister? For all of your talk of helping the poor, you sure do shun them when they ask for help.

My family started using SNAP in fifth or sixth grade. The very first time my mother pulled out her EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card, I thought she might cry. I couldn’t tell if it was from shame or because she was so happy we could eat something other than Chef Boyardee. At first, my mother was too proud to apply: she had internalized all of the horrible things she’d heard people say about those who use food stamps. She thought it would be a waste of the government’s money.

That’s the main defense people use against any kind of welfare spending. The purpose of your tax dollars is to make the country a better place for everyone who lives in it, and I don’t have the words to explain to you that you should care about other people. Why do you think it’s more important to buy weapons and give tax cuts to the wealthy than to give money to families? Why am I worth less than a missile? Why is my brother?

My baby brother is the purest little bean you’ve ever seen. He has four teeth, and another one coming in. Look me in the eye and tell me you want him to grow up like I did: rail thin and full of rage. I want him to have the luxuries your families can afford, but I know that’s not realistic. It may not seem like much, but the money we save from not spending as much on groceries goes a long way. After my dad got a new job, we qualified for less benefits. Even with his new job, it’s still a struggle sometimes. My situation is better than it was when I was younger, we have a two story house, but we still take a big blow from simple medical issues like a broken leg or stitches. It takes us even longer to stabilize after a medical emergency like a new baby or pneumonia.  

You’re all shocked and amazed when I tell you that my family needs government assistance. I dress fairly normal, I am no longer malnourished and I have a laptop and a phone.

Poverty doesn’t always present itself as an old beat up car and falling apart sneakers. People who grow up in the middle class with financial security seem to think that poverty looks a lot like dirty children, with dirty clothes and no shoes. But it doesn’t. It can be that, but it’s often not.

I never had clothes that were dirty or falling apart, but most of my clothes and shoes were hand-me-downs from my older sister. In fact, a lot of my toys were, too. So, when you say, “I still can’t believe you’re on food stamps,” you are really saying, “I have this picture in my head of what poverty looks like, and you don’t fit that image.”

When you say, “People who use welfare are just lazy,” all I can hear is my aunt telling my mother that she’s a waste of tax dollars.

That idea we have about what poverty is supposed to look like is a big reason why you are all so content with cutting safety net programs. However, in reality, you could really be just one medical problem, one car accident, or one lay-off away from complete financial ruin. What does poverty look like, then?  

Poverty in the developed world doesn’t look like refugee children with flies on their faces.

It looks like a normal person, in normal clothes, in a normal house, with their bills spread out on  the kitchen table, crying.