SNAP: Two Dimes & A Penny

SNAPChallenge_Layer-1I’ve stood behind folks arguing about twenty-one cents on their grocery order before. Adamant, they don’t back down while others wait behind them. Clerks are often not very helpful looking with disdain at the person who bickers over two dimes and a penny. I admit sometimes I have been impatient when standing behind this scene.

Today I empathize with the panic of those who argue over small change.

With three dollars and fifty-four cents left in my food budget for 2-1/2 days, I went to the market in my small town yesterday. I was thrilled to find that there was an abundance of bananas left and, since this was the end of the week, they were only thirty-three cents a pound. I would have fruit!

Then to my joy was a new rack of Braeburn apples sale priced at 79 cents a pound. I would have apples and bananas to supplement my beige noodles and rice at home. Yes, I would have fruit! I couldn’t afford any more vegetables and all I had left at home was a quarter of a zucchini but, by golly, I was going to have fruit.

My order totaled $2.50 but since I am new to this living so very close to the edge, I didn’t realize a mistake was made. I was charged for one Braeburn apple at the 79 cent a pound and one Fuji apple at $1.49 a pound. That thirty-seven cents overcharge matters to me this week. It will buy a baking potato if I can find a small one in the pile.

When you’re poor and living near the edge every penny counts. When you’re days away from pay day or a refill on your food stamp card, of course, you argue over two dimes and a penny.

The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place. Jeremiah 22:3 CEB

Related Articles
Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13
SNAP: The Veggie-Noodle Balance 11-21-13
SNAP: The Glop That Plops 11-22-13
SNAP: Ouch, Ouch, Ouch 11-23-13

SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious

SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious

After delaying the start of the SNAP Challenge, I realized I wasn’t ready. I should have done more PR about it within my small town and the congregation I serve. I should have planned a menu. I should have gone to the grocery sooner. 

I’d already delayed the start of the Challenge. And now I was hungry.

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Almost on auto-pilot I went to the freezer to get a meal and pop it into the microwave so I could eat as I worked atthe computer. The frosty breeze in my face, I realized that if I ate my typical lunch, I would expend two meals worth of cost. My favorite freezer to microwave meal cost $3.29 but even the cheaper meals, are well over a buck-fifty.

I put my shoes on and went to the grocery with a short list. I realized immediately that this was going to be harder than I thought. The healthy produce-centric meals I usually prepare for myself would not withstand my $31.45 budget for the week.

And, so, I lingered near the fresh green beans but moved on. They were too expensive. I was pleased to find baby carrots on sale at one dollar this week. For lunch I picked up a can of black beans and instant rice. I’d do something with the carrots and the one zucchini squash and mushroom soup for dinner. As I reached the counter — as if in protest — I grabbed three 15 cent tootsie pops. I needed dessert!

As of the morning of the second day of the SNAP Challenge, I have spent two-thirds of my budget for the week. Looking at the box where my SNAP food is kept, I predict a lot of beige meals. I have rice, noodles, and almost-white wheat bread. With my remaining $10, I’m hoping to supplement with fresh vegetables and fruits and — perhaps — more delicious tootsie pop desserts.

On the first day of the SNAP Challenge, I’ve already become more anxious about my food. Will it last? How will this carbohydrate heavy food effect my feelings of well-being this week? Why did I buy that can of black beans when I could have saved 75 cents and had more food with the dry beans? I should have planned better!

If I am anxious about food after one day…
If I am anxious about food when my only risk is I will “fail” the Challenge…
If I am anxious about food when I have money for more in the bank…

If…
…how is it for my kindred who face this everyday?

If…
…how is it for those who are also trying to raise children on this kind of budget?

They asked only that we would remember the poor, which was certainly something I was willing to do. Galatians 2:10 CEB (Read in context.)

Related Articles

Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13

The War on the Poor

My wife and I recently downsized to pay-as-you-go dumbphones. I’d like to say that our movement toward a simple lifestyle is the primary reason. (See Emptying Barns for posts on our journey of letting go of possessions.) But, if I’m honest we’ve done so to save money. With my continuing non-paid lifestyle, we can use an extra hundred bucks a month.

This photo by Rudy Costanza of the Times-Picayune created a stir in New Orleans and the Internet.

I thought of this when I heard that an internet bitch session has begun over a photo of a poor child with an iPad. Can you hear the uproar? “I can’t even afford an iPad and I pay for people on welfare to have one!” Embedded in this comment and others like it is a judgmentalism about the poor. The poor are lazy, the poor are manipulative, and live in luxury on the back of hardworking taxpayers, goes the judgement.

Until our contracts were complete with the big corporate phone company, we did not have the choice to downsize to affordable phones. Though our finances dictate that a pay-as-you go basic phone is the wise choice, until earlier this week I carried an iPhone. If you knew my income and saw me with an iPhone you might ask yourself, “Where’d he steal it?” or “I can’t even afford an iPhone and I pay for someone on welfare to have one!”

Or you would if you perceived me as a poor person.

We have a disdain for those who are poor in this country. We blame the victims of this complex social issue. When we oversimplify it, we oversimplify the role that personal responsibility plays. Yes, personal responsibility matters but poverty has far more to do with oppressive systems within our culture and economy.

Having spent decades in educational and social service agencies, I have known some people who skirt ethics and legalities. Some of them have been poor. Most have been from middle-class or upper-class socioeconomic groups. This is to say we are all human with our faults regardless of our income.

Judging another by an object they own (or simply possess) is dubious. I have had my eyes opened more than once as I visited the homes of children’s families who were poor. I’m not convinced I wouldn’t spend a tax refund — that might be better spent — on an iPad for my child if I raised her in some of the hope deserts I’ve visited.

But, for those who profess to follow Jesus, none of these facts are the reason to refrain from our harsh, disdainful judgment of the poor. Never mind that pesky little ol’ passage about not judging others (See Matthew 7:1-5), the Gospels (and the Old Testament, too) are chockfull of passages about how we treat the poor. Many argue convincingly that Jesus has a preferential option for the poor.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because [God] has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.” Luke 4: 18a NRSV (Read in context.)

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:21-22 NRSV (Read in context.)

‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Luke 11:42 NRSV (Read in context.)

Just & Loving God,

Soften our hearts,

   open us to your love,

      that we might breathe it in and,

          breathe out its compassion, empathy, and

             burning desire for justice.

May we leave judgment to you,

   and exude your extravagant love for the poor,

      in our actions and words.

Amen.

***

Related Reading

The author of the original Times-Picayune article discusses the reaction in a newspaper column.  An interesting discussion of what the poor deserve as explanation for the reaction can be found here.