“Poor People”

by adustyframe ~ September 21st, 2011

I mentioned last week that I was trying to think about how to write about the comments people make about poor people.

I’ll just tell you some things I’m hearing and my thoughts and maybe you can chime in too!

Recently someone told me they saw people at the fireworks on the 4th with all those glow sticks for their kids. Then they said, “They were the kind of people who shouldn’t be buying that stuff.”

THE KIND OF PEOPLE? What does that mean? I agree the prices on those are ridiculous. I don’t ever buy them for James for the same reason.

But I feel like asking, “How do you KNOW that they bought them there?” I’ve bought them at the Dollar Store or Walmart. This summer I found a bunch of them on clearance for .25 and yes I bought 2 for James.

How do you know that Grandma didn’t give them a little money for the fireworks? How do you know that the child didn’t save their quarters long enough to buy something?
James has done this very thing. He wants something and I tell him I’m not going to buy it and he can save his money. Often that changes his mind, but many times he wants it badly enough that he saves until he can get it.

I don’t know that these poor people did any of the above and the other person doesn’t know that they didn’t. Honestly, maybe we shouldn’t be judging each other so much.

Another thing that gets me is the FoodStamp comments. We’ve used FoodStamps–we’re using FoodStamps. I think back to the times when I tried to feed my growing son on less than $25 a week. French toast and breads and very little meat or fruit was not healthy. I finally applied and felt like crying for joy when I could buy real food for my child.

You don’t even have to talk to me about the FoodStamp abuses. I acknowledge that they are real but I also think you just don’t know everything about a person. Perhaps be angry at the government and their rules not at the people using FoodStamps.

Here’s what I hear, “People on FoodStamps shouldn’t buy junk food.” or “People on FoodStamps shouldn’t buy healthy food. I pay my own way and I can’t afford organic fruit.” (or whatever it is).

I’m sure I’ve bought some junk food. I’m also sure I’ve bought some healthy food. Sometimes the organic food is cheaper than the chemical food if something is clearanced. Sometimes the nice cut of meat is less expensive than the hamburger. Should I buy hamburger so I don’t offend someone in the checkout that I bought nicer meat with my food stamps?

I used to have a huge “diamond” ring. Plain old cheap cheap junk that my friend gave me to make me smile. I wore it because it was pretty and I got a lot of dirty looks in the grocery line. Please people….just please!

My mom had a single mom friend in the 70’s who bought a steak and a birthday cake with her food stamps. (Real food stamps in those days, not a debit card.) It was her little boy’s birthday and the steak was cheaper than hamburger. A man stood behind her screaming at her the whole time she checked out about her abuse of food stamps. She left the store shaking and in tears.

I’m sorry but I don’t think that was any of his business. I also think that just because a child is from a poor family they don’t deserve a birthday cake!

If food stamps really make you angry, work with legislators for reform. Our state has rules about what you can purchase. If the rules need to be changed so be it but it’s not the fault of the person on food stamps.

Our state also has stiff penalties for lying about income–maybe other states need to do this. But once again it’s not the fault of the food stamp users.

Ok then here’s another thing.

We’ve been able to do some “nice” things even while Lee was incarcerated. We were broke–we were so broke you can’t imagine unless you’ve been there. Sometimes it was from a gift of a friend. I wouldn’t post anything like, “My sister just gave us $100 and told us to buy an air conditioner for the bedroom” –which she did by the way!

So I imagine some people could misunderstand.

Some things we saved and saved and sold belongings. Yes, I understand that if we have bills to pay maybe it wasn’t the 100%  best thing to do to go to an event or buy something we needed.

I don’t really know what the perfect answer is. I do know that sometimes while trying to keep life “normal” for James, I’d pray that God would enable us to do something special and He provided the money–even though we had bills.

Another thing I deal with is that I shop at thrift stores. I can find really nice name brand items cheaper than I can buy junk at Walmart. I feel sometimes that I have to explain to people looking at me, “Yes, Lee has been having a lot of unemployment and yes we really are broke, but I did just buy this pair of Birkenstocks at the thrift store for $3.”

Maybe that’s my problem? Maybe it’s just that I don’t want people to think that I’m one of “those people” who shouldn’t be buying Birkenstocks?

Some people in my circle do not know about Lee’s incarceration. They weren’t around when he was gone and sometimes I feel like I don’t want to have to deal with everyone knowing. I want to just be–be me–be our family.

One knows about the unemployment and I mentioned something about going to Women of Faith and she raised her eyebrows at me but didn’t say anything. I didn’t explain either but felt like I should have told her how I got them free through a blogging program. But then I would have had to explain about my blog…

So now I have a friend thinking about how I “say” I’m broke but I’m going to Women of Faith.

When I wrote the tips for helping single moms, I mentioned something about a Starbucks card and a comment was made that said something like Starbucks isn’t helpful when people can’t pay their electric.

I just wonder why we think it’s wrong for a poor mom to be given a card to Starbucks?

It all boils down to that I am the poor person right now. I don’t like it. Things people say and things people judge do bother me.

But it boils down to the fact that no one else truly knows and I shouldn’t care.

I SHOULD be responsible, and I feel a burden to show responsibility with the gracious generosity so many people have showed me. I also know that compared to much of the world we are so blessed and even if I didn’t get food stamps we still would be living better than so many around the world.

I don’t think anyone deserves anything and please don’t think that’s what I’m saying!

I could go into the fact that we give too. I ask God to help me be generous whenever I can be–but that truly is no one’s business. I would never say, “Hey we’re poor but look what I just gave to someone.” because that would be wrong.

So maybe what I’m trying to say is just check your heart when you want to judge a poor person and pray for them. Having more money doesn’t make you better and doesn’t give you the position to decide what everyone else should be doing.

I imagine some of you may have a lot to say–just please be kind and don’t assume that I’m posting this to ask for $ or to say that reforms don’t need to be made….or that I’m posting out of a heart that says, “gimme gimme I deserve xyz.”




11 Thoughts Shared to “Poor People”

  1. Barbara H.

    I think you’re right on, Lizzie. I think we’re all too quick to jump to conclusions when we don’t know what’s going on. Just because there are abuses in the system doesn’t mean that everyone who is using the system is misusing it. We as a people tend to treat ourselves so much, we shouldn’t begrudge people who receive a Starbucks card or something.

  2. Lisa

    I had to accept foodstamps when I was unemployed. I was stunned to learn how much crap you can buy with them! I’m afraid I think they are called “Food” stamps for a reason. No nutrition–no purchase should be the rule. Then to, you can buy soda, but not necessary stuff like SOAP. I don’t mean designer body wash–you can’t even buy a bar of generic bath soap. Or dish soap. Or a bottle of aspirin. I do not think foodstamps should pay for soda, chips & other total crap fake “foods.”

    I am blessed to be able to read, taught myself to cook and have grown up in a family that supports trying new things. Therefore I have no need of “hot pockets” or frozen pizza. I realize though that many people today have not had the opportunity to learn the cooking and reading skills I have and I also realize that they may not be in a living situation that allows them even a microwave.

    What’s sadder is when people qualify for government programs to teach them new skills and then go to the program but never apply it. My mom taught budgeting and cooking to low income folks for almost 20 years. She got so sick of seeing people just go right back to what they’ve always known as soon as they were done with the program. Sad.

    I think we have also gone too far with “best” only. By this I mean that juice packed canned fruit is FINE. Fresh fruit is great, but not many low-income people have easy access to stores with decent produce.Same with veggies–canned veggies are still veggies.

    Hit a nerve? Yes! lol…. I use the amount of food stamps my state gives to a family of 3 as a guideline for my budget. I stuck to it for years. Now we can flex a little and I do. But by buying “real food” and cooking at home, I don’t spend very much more.

    Lisa, I had to go to a cooking class for food assistance. The lady from the county extension program talked about heart health and veggies, etc.
    Then she made a taco salad. The recipe called for salsa and spices to season it.
    She made it with a package of taco seasoning and ranch dressing.
    Someone (some “poor person”) said, “Doesn’t that add a lot of fat and sodium to the recipe?”
    And she said, “Well this way is easier.”

    Eye roll….

  3. Laura

    I’m going to paste something here that might interest you. If it doesn’t fit, is there an email address to send it to?

    The Rich Family In Church
    by Eddie Ogan

    I’ll never forget Easter 1946. I was 14, my little sister Ocy was 12, and my older sister Darlene 16. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things. My dad had died five years before, leaving Mom with seven school kids to raise and no money.

    By 1946 my older sisters were married and my brothers had left home. A month before Easter the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially.

    When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. When we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, we’d save money on that month’s electric bill. Darlene got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. For 15 cents we could buy enough cotton loops to make three pot holders to sell for $1.

    We made $20 on pot holders. That month was one of the best of our lives.

    Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved. At night we’d sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in church, so figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much. After all, every Sunday the pastor had reminded everyone to save for the sacrificial offering.

    The day before Easter, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change.

    We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene. We had never had so much money before.

    That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We didn’t care that we wouldn’t have new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering.

    We could hardly wait to get to church! On Sunday morning, rain was pouring. We didn’t own an umbrella, and the church was over a mile from our home, but it didn’t seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart, and her feet got wet.

    But we sat in church proudly. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on their old dresses. I looked at them in their new clothes, and I felt rich.

    When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us kids put in a $20.

    As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes! Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 and seventeen $1 bills.

    Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn’t talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash. We kids had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have our Mom and Dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share silverware and see whether we got the spoon or the fork that night.

    We had two knifes that we passed around to whoever needed them. I knew we didn’t have a lot of things that other people had, but I’d never thought we were poor.

    That Easter day I found out we were. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor. I didn’t like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed–I didn’t even want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor!

    I thought about school. I was in the ninth grade and at the top of my class of over 100 students. I wondered if the kids at school knew that we were poor. I decided that I could quit school since I had finished the eighth grade. That was all the law required at that time. We sat in silence for a long time. Then it got dark, and we went to bed. All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn’t know. We’d never known we were poor. We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. Although it was a sunny day, we didn’t talk on the way.

    Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse. At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun dried bricks, but they needed money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, “Can’t we all sacrifice to help these poor people?” We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week.

    Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me, and I handed it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering.

    When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn’t expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church.”

    Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that “little over $100.”

    We were the rich family in the church! Hadn’t the missionary said so? From that day on I’ve never been poor again. I’ve always remembered how rich I am because I have Jesus!

    Laura, I read this once before but thanks for the reminder! It’s good. I also didn’t want to suggest that we “feel” poor or live poor. We truly do know we are blessed and we have a lot of things we don’t need :).

  4. judy

    Thanks for saying this. And saying it so well!
    I have a relative who receives state aid for her and her young child. In our state she can use her card at the farmer’s market for twice the value. Which she happily does!

    Our Farmer’s Market just started that! It’s such a blessing! (although we don’t get twice as much:) )

  5. Lisa

    lol….on the Taco Salad. My mom and her group didn’t do that!! Just typical of what Americans do to make a healthy salad unhealthy!

  6. Jean

    Me again. 🙂 I forgot to mention, I’ve been reading your blog for some time now. Even though I don’t know you personally, you seem like a good steward of the blessings the Lord has given you. Reading the posts you’ve shared about your trials has blessed me and has been an encouragement.

    Hey!! Sorry about your trials !((hugs)) Thanks for leaving a comment:) I like to know who is reading! I appreciate your kind words.

  7. Pam

    Powerful—-thought provoking post……a reminder that it is dangerous to be judgmental-to make assumptions……of anyone….
    Thanks again Lizzie for encouraging us to be more thoughtful

  8. Sherry

    I’m a single homeschooling mom and I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now – though I don’t think I’ve ever said hello 🙂

    I had a very rough patch several years ago – my boss was killed in an automobile accident and then shortly after I had a major surgery that kept me out of work for nearly a year. I used food stamps and WIC and was on state insurance during that time. Just giving you my background so you know a bit about me!

    Anyway – I will completely admit that I have done a once-over on someone who is dressed to the hilt with expensive shoes, bag, and jewelry getting out a fs card. I always chastise myself for doing so as I don’t ever want to judge anyone! I would never, ever say anything to anyone and I always feel guilty for the thoughts that pop into my head.

    I feel like a terrible person for admitting that! It has only happened a couple of times and I do tell myself that maybe they had money and bought those things before hard times hit. Maybe they have family who gifts them nice things.

    But I wanted to thank you for this post, as it opened my eyes to what I have done in the past and how I intend never to do it in the future!



    Thanks for saying hi:)! Don’t be a stranger. I’m sure it IS hard not to assume things and I know that there truly are abuses. We had nice things (still do) that we purchased when our life was “normal”. I think a lot of people thought we couldn’t possibly be “poor” when we had those things.
    Now, if I were buying them right then and saying I was broke….well;) that’s another story!

  9. PrayerSister

    Oh so much I could say — if you want a lobster for a treat & use your food stamps on it, go for it! you deserve something special for all of the effort & sacrifice.
    I get so worked up! you don’t have to answer to anyone, not to the person who quirks their eyebrow, or to the person who eyes your birks — ignore them & enjoy WOF

    …except I don’t like lobster….;0

  10. Jenny

    AMEN! I think if I said much more I’d get myself in trouble. 😉

  11. Laudable Linkage « Stray Thoughts

    […] “Poor People.” Lizzie shares several thoughtless and insensitive remarks people tend to make about “the poor.” […]

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