( Tokens representing $1, which can be used specifically for fresh fruits and vegetables, are displayed at a Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) station, more commonly known as Food Stamps. Photo/Getty Images )

Opinion: My food stamps experience, and the power of sharing online

I have been on food stamps, also known as EBT or SNAP – and it wasn’t that long ago.

Late in 2008, during the peak of the recession, I lost my job, money and marriage all at once. I was suddenly the single, unemployed mom of two young girls, 4 and 7 years of age. Our fridge was empty, and my heart was heavy. The neighbor kept inviting my girls to dinner and I eventually found out that it was because my kids told her we had little food in the house.

A friend suggested that I apply for food stamps and at first I balked. Food stamps were for poor people!

But that´s exactly what we were at the moment—poor.

I could hardly scrape together enough money to pay the rent. Once I was approved for $375 a month in assistance, I was able to buy groceries and, with that weight off my shoulders, focus on doing whatever it took to make a decent living. I realized I had to stop my fruitless job hunt in print media or in translating, which had been my source of income before. The economy was dismal and the publishing industry was migrating to the Internet. With a full stomach and a clear head, I reinvented my writing career and successfully took it online.

Five years later, I look back and wonder how I even got out of bed the morning when my world crumbled at my feet. I do know what kept me going: my kids´ smiles, and my need to provide for them. During the last few years, my personal and professional lives have been on the fast track. I met the most compatible life partner, my kids are thriving and I went from freelance writing to managing editor at an online newspaper to Editor in Chief of Mamiverse, a site for Latina moms and their families.

But this is not so much about how I got out of a bleak situation. It´s about the fact that two years ago, I decided to pitch and write my story of being on food stamps for publication. I knew that I wasn’t the only middle-class mother who had at some point needed this kind of help. I wanted to share my experience so that others would know where to turn for assistance. And especially, I wanted to fight the stigma attached to people who apply for these programs. It could happen to anyone, out of the blue. A divorce, a layoff, a death in the family, a hospital stay – there are many factors that can suddenly put anyone in this situation of need.

As taxpayers, we all have the right to benefit from financial assistance programs when we truly need them. And there should be no shame attached to undergoing a rough time.

A little while after my story was published online, Redbook contacted me to do a feature on single moms based on my first piece. I retold my story. Soon after, the production company of the documentary A Place at the Table: One Nation Underfed, asked whether I would be okay being a part of their SNAP Alumni campaign. I was happy to oblige.

Fast forward two years, and MomsRising requested to repost my food stamp story on their site as the government announced SNAP cuts were coming. Once again, I was grateful to be able to help by sharing how EBT had helped my family and me get back on our feet. The organization then highlighted my story and sent it to members of Congress. Elisa Batista and Elyssa Koidin of MomsRising let me know just last week that more than 10,000 parents backed me up with their signatures.

MomsRising delivered a book of member stories—including mine on the cover letter—to every single member of Congress. Rep. Kathy Castor from Florida used it in her testimony. On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, she held up a photo of my kids and me and included us as a Face of Hunger in America and submitted my story into the official Congressional record, where it will remain forever.

When I found out how far my story had gone, I was by myself at the gym of a hotel in Manhattan. That same day, Mamiverse, the site I manage, won a prestigious award at LATISM13 for Best Latino Parenting Blog. Yet that private moment felt way more victorious. It was an intense personal and private reward for my individual struggle. I called my kids back home—they are now 9 and 12—to let them know how far our story had gone, and how many people it may have influenced. I e-mailed them the video of the House of Representatives  accepting our story for their records.

Then I hung up the phone and looked out of a window of the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, realizing how far I´d come in such a relatively short time. I thought back to the day that I applied for the SNAP help, the moment I got the EBT card in the mail and the first time my kids and I trudged up the stairs with bags full of groceries. Then the happy day when I was able to pass up on reapplying for the assistance, the moment when I decided to tell my story, and everything else that led to my current situation. It was an awakening of sorts, and a good reminder of why I’m so passionate about being a communicator. I know in my heart that in order to keep moving forward, I can´t ever forget where I come from, always need to know what I stand for and must constantly figure out where I´m headed. All this, while sharing my journey with others.

I don’t know what the final outcome will be for the SNAP program. I really hope the program doesn’t get cuts. It helps so many people. It helped me and my girls. And it needs to continue feeding other hungry people in America.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you. I never thought I’d need to apply for food stamps. But I had to, and qualifying for them helped me rebuild my life and climb out of a desperate situation. It also enabled me to share my experience with others and perhaps help the program stay in place. And that is the power of sharing a personal story online.

Don’t be afraid to tell yours.

Lorraine_Photos_05

Lorraine C. Ladish is a 17-times published author of both fiction and non-fiction with over 20 years of experience as a freelance writer and editor. The subjects of her books include pregnancy, parenting, raising creative kids, writing and publishing and relationships. She has contributed to People en Español, Redbook and La Palma of The Palm Beach Post, and was the managing editor of VOXXI Mujer. In June 2012 she was appointed Editor in Chief of Mamiverse.com, a digital hub for multicultural moms and their families, in both English and Spanish. A passionate communicator, Lorraine writes and speaks from a place of honesty, openness and empowerment. She is based in Sarasota, Florida, with her blended family. 

 

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