In December of 2013, I suddenly found myself homeless and jobless. I had never been let go from a job before nor evicted, and to have them happen within days of each other was overwhelming, to say the least. Thankfully, at the time, I did have an amazing boyfriend. He not only helped me financially get into a new place, but he physically moved my entire apartment by himself.
I applied for and was awarded unemployment which totaled about 50% of my normal monthly gross income. I spent my days job hunting, I registered with a top-notch employment agency and my ex-husband helped me out when he could. I took odd jobs; writing content for a website and tending bar at catering events. But every week that passed, I fell further and further behind. I had three children at home and needed to take care of my shit. And fast.
So, early one morning I decided to check my ego at the door of our local Health and Human Services office and slithered quietly inside to apply for Food Stamps aka Cal Fresh benefits.
When I say I left my ego at the door, I didn’t entirely leave it there. I know this because during the 5 hours I spent in the office, I was coiled up in a hard chair and refrained from making eye contact with anyone.
My application was approved by a pleasant man named Alberto, who was my case worker. I refrained from bursting into tears of relief and giving him a hug of gratitude, as he handed me my EBT card. It looked like a debit/credit card and therefore, payment would be discreet. As you can imagine, this was a godsend for me and my ego. Still, I cringed each and every time I had to pull the card from my wallet. I could feel the checker, the bagger and the shoppers behind me in line peering down their noses at me in judgement.
Case in point, one day, while perusing social media, I ended up on a random person’s Facebook page (I’m not so sure I should be admitting this publicly, but we all do it? No?).
This woman, who I will respectfully refer to as “FB Rant Lady” was perched high atop her virtual soap box. Apparently, she had just come from the grocery store and she was pissed and she wanted everybody to know why. Here is her story as I remember reading it:
“FB Rant Lady” had been in line at the grocery store behind a woman and was admiring the woman’s designer handbag. As the woman (let’s call her Designer Handbag Lady) paid for her groceries, “FB Rant Lady” (who evidently has the vision of Superman) noticed “Designer Handbag Lady” was paying with an EBT card. “FB Rant Lady” couldn’t believe the gall “Designer Handbag Lady” had to own a purse that cost several hundred dollars all the while “paying” for her groceries with the state’s aka “our” money.
For 6 months, I carried my EBT card in my Coach wallet which was in turn carried in one of my Coach bags. It had never occurred to me society expected me to pack my “nicer” things away, right along with my dignity, the second I applied for assistance. I had already lost my apartment, my job and my pride; could I not continue to clutch something nice from my previous, more comfortable life? It takes a lot to ask for help and when others think they know our story, it makes these tough times in life a little harder to navigate.
The last time I used my EBT card was a momentous one, to say the least. I waited in line at Vons, and the elderly woman ahead reminded me of my mother, with her frail-like movements and permed, chestnut hair. She only had a few items and as she shakily reached for her wallet (don’t ask me what brand it was), I beat her to it and paid for her groceries. I had just been lent a helping hand of sorts, and now it was my turn to do something helpful.
Sometimes in life we need help. We need to separate from our ego and just ask. I will forever be thankful for the support I received from our state and my friends and family during that bleak chapter in my life.