I am 42 years old and I can still feel the judgement in their eyes...
I grew up on welfare...I was a child, but I knew I was different, I knew people didn't like me. I knew the disdain the teachers and students felt toward me because I was a "free lunch kid."
I felt less than when we got our government cheese and butter. I knew people were judging us as we cashed in our food stamps for the much needed groceries.
I was a child, I didn't have a choice. But I promised myself that when I grew up, my kids were not ever going to know the judgement I felt by being a free lunch kid. I promised that I wouldn't allow my kids to be on the medical card, and have to feel unwelcomed because of it. I was going to get out there and work as hard as I could so that I would never have to be in that situation again.
And work I did, I paid my way through college, working 40 hours or more a week as a CNA, and taking a full load of classes, all the while whistling Travis Tritt's, "I'm gonna be somebody, one of these days I'm gonna break these chains..." I was on track to graduate with honors from college and I then I would be set, well on my way of breaking out of the welfare cycle.
But then, life happened. I was newly married, student teaching and working hard on my anti-welfare plan when I found out I was pregnant. Jerry and I had no insurance and though I went kicking and screaming, I had to get the medical card in order to get proper care for the baby. I was humbled, but still proud. I refused food stamps and cash assistance, though we easily qualified for both. I kept working hard and by the time Jeremiah was born, I had my first teaching job all lined up and we were finally on our way...
I could keep on typing here, sharing with you the adventures and misadventures of our life, all the events that have landed us where we are today, but I will spare you the gory details...and just bring the story to the present.
Last year, after being laid off, I had to apply for free lunches for my kids. It was humiliating and painful. I even had to get the medical card. I sat outside their office for more than a half and hour sobbing before I could bring myself to go in and apply for the needed help. It was my momma's heart that finally mustered up enough courage to go inside, and I ended up having to leave before I finished filling out all the paperwork, because I was sick to my stomach. The judgmental eyes from my youth were haunting me.
I am only able now to share this story because I am once again working, and we no longer need free lunch or medical assistance. I am sharing this story not just for me, but for all of the people out there who are on "welfare." As I have shared in my blogs from the past, I am raising my niece and three of my nephews, because they are wards of the state, they automatically qualified for the medical card. I cannot tell you how many times I have received dirty looks or even been the recipient of unkind words because of this, especially because I have 8 kids. People assume we are just living off the system. Those comments are hurtful to me, but even worse, they hurt my children. So I am taking this opportunity to speak on behalf of them and ask all of you to please remember:
1. A family's income is never the responsibility or fault of any child.
2. Not everyone is "taking advantage of the system." Some people are just going through a rough patch. Sure some people are, there is no doubt of that, but not everyone is.
3. Don't judge a book by its cover, just because someone has 8 kids and has the medical card doesn't mean they are living irresponsibly.
4. Smile at the next person you see using their food stamps (link card), you may be the only kind face they see all day.
5.Treat everyone with the kindness and respect you would want extended to your children or family members.
Really all of this can be summed up simply by following the Golden Rule given to us by Jesus himself in Luke 6:31, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Questions or comments? As always I would love to hear them!