Not too long ago, my son and I were the face of SNAP, hunger and poverty in Idaho

Dedication: My amazing husband, Daniel

June 8, 2008, I remember the day vividly—the nurse practitioner told me I had Type 2 Diabetes. I argued with her that was not possible. I’m a nurse, I do diabetic counseling, and I don’t pig out on junk. Once I came back to reality, I realized I had to have a plan to manage my condition. For a year and a half things were going well. I lost weight and was on oral medications. January 10, 2010, another day I remember vividly. My boss, a bankruptcy attorney, called me into his office to let me know that he had to eliminate my position. I was terrified. I was a single mom with a growing teenage son to take care of. Now what was I supposed to do with no job and the economy is in the toilet.

While I did receive unemployment, those benefits didn’t come close to replacing what I was making. I was looking for a job relentlessly, applying everywhere there was an opening, but with the recession still in full swing and unemployment at 8.8 percent in Idaho, jobs were few and far between in my community. I knew that if I was going to be able to take care of my son, I was going to have to ask for help. I felt like a failure. I had always worked full time and been able to support myself and my children.

I tried to make ends meet. I delayed paying the power bill for as long as I could. I stopped seeing the nurse practitioner who helped me manage my diabetes. It took about three months after we started receiving SNAP before I noticed I was feeling cruddy all the time. Eating processed foods is okay now and then. When you make a regular diet of it, they clog your whole body with sludge and drag you down. I remember lying awake in bed one night, my thoughts scattered and my mind racing. When is the rent due again? I wonder if the power company will take $20 this month and let me pay the rest later? I hope Joel doesn’t need something baked or cooked for a school event. What am I going to do about Joel’s birthday? I got out of bed to check my blood sugar. 279—Holy Smokes! I ran through everything I’d eaten that day: Coffee, muffin, pop-tarts, ramen, grilled cheese, and Diet Coke. No wonder my blood sugar was skyrocketing, and no wonder I felt the way I did.

The food was dwindling so I decided to go to a food pantry. I was ashamed and embarrassed to have to be there, but the staff made me feel welcome and gave me a big box of healthy food. I was so relieved that I could put food in the pantry and fix something for my son to eat. The food I received from the pantry was a big help, but it wasn’t enough to get us through the month. I was beginning to feel quite defeated and hopeless.

When I went to apply for food stamps, I sat in my car for an hour crying before going in. I could not believe that my life had brought me to this point. It is very humbling as a parent to realize you can’t do something as basic as feed your children without help. I was nervous about what people would think of me.

I was so glad that everything went well at Health and Welfare and I was able to enroll in SNAP. Receiving SNAP meant that we didn’t have to go hungry, though it was very challenging to ensure we were eating healthy and nutritious food. Cans of chili, packs of frozen burritos and ramen noodles are a lot cheaper than lean meats, fresh vegetables and fruit.

What I was not prepared for was how other people would look at me and treat me. At the grocery store when people saw I was paying with SNAP, there were rude comments, eye rolling, whispering, people pointing at my cart—even some hostility from the cashier. I started shopping late at night so I might avoid all those judging people and even considered shopping in another town where no one would know me.

Many people think those of us who need food assistance are deadbeats and leeches who don’t want to work and take no personal responsibility. In reality, we are just like everyone else. Many of us have jobs, we have children for whom we want the best, we are trying hard to make ends meet from day to day but sometimes life throws you a curve-ball and you need a helping hand.

Today things are much better. In January 2011, I finally found a full-time job with the State of Idaho that I loved and in May of 2011 I received my last disbursement of SNAP. I got married in 2014 to my amazing and supportive husband and my son is thriving. I have since left my job with the State of Idaho and returned to the nursing profession and could not be happier.

It is hard to talk about, but with so many stereotypes about what hunger looks like and who is on SNAP, I think it is important for people to know that the face of hunger looks like anyone of us and SNAP is a lifeline to families that fall on hard times. I am a survivor. A hunger and poverty survivor.

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Dawn C Pierce

I am a sought-after presenter and community educator. I makes the connection between hunger and health in a personal way: I have told my story of losing my job and needing food stamps at Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering, in the Bread for the World Institute’s 2016 Hunger Report, and on a White House panel with Rep. Jim McGovern. I am the Community Advocate for the Idaho Food Bank. I have been an LPN for 26 years.