There’s a personal reason as to why I am writing about the reality of living on Food Stamps in an article that will publish next month. I’m writing about it because that used to be me.

Excuse me while I bare too much of my personal life on these pages.

My husband and I divorced in 2004 and I moved in with my parents until I could get back on my feet. I was in between jobs at the time, and besides my hobby of writing and taking care of my kids, I had very little skills that would secure me in a high paying position. It was the beginning of the economy downturn when jobs were suddenly not as available as they used to be. This meant that the only job I could find was a low-paying PT position in retail.

When I moved from my parents’ house, I was bringing home $1200 a month. Thanks to the good fortune of being able to move into low-income housing (not an easy feat, considering the waiting list is about 5 miles long), my rent at the time was $749. That left me with $451 – money that had to be divided between gas, insurance, PG&E, phone, and food for myself and two kids, as well as necessities like clothing, toilet paper, soap, shampoo… I was not receiving child support. And $451 does not stretch that far very easily.

If it were not for food stamps, my family would have starved. I cannot remember the exact amount I received, but I believe it was around $200 a month. We learned the fine art of budgeting our food money to last us for the month, going to the store with a plan in place via our shopping list, and learning to appreciate generic brands over the high–priced name labels.

You can read more about my own reality on Food Stamps HERE.

And yes, there is shame attached to that Electronic Benefits transfer (EBT) card. It’s mortifying to discretely hand over the EBT card, praying that anyone in line will think it’s just a credit card, only to have the checker loudly ask you if you are using food or cash benefits on it. There’s shame attached to it because of all the jokes and judgments made over “welfare moms”, as if we chose to be in this position and find it fun to barely live paycheck to paycheck, requiring help from the county just to feed our children. There’s shame as people believe that receiving Food Stamps is the easy way out, not understanding that those who receive help from the state go through rigorous background checks, fill out tons of paperwork, and must report every single thing that happens in their life – from the money they earn or borrow, gifts they receive, major events, etc. If they miss even one deadline, their benefits are taken away and can be very difficult to get back, and they may even be liable to pay back benefits with money they don’t have.

The majority of those using Food Stamps don’t want to be using Food Stamps. And even now, years since I had to pull out that EBT card, I still remember what it was like to hand the checker that card whenever I’m at the checkout line. I am grateful it was there when I needed it. And I’m grateful that (with God’s grace) I’ll never have to use it again.

In preparation for the article I am writing next month, I am asking two things:

First, I am looking for families to take part in a Food Stamp Challenge. The idea is that for 7 days, your family is to live on a food budget of only $50 for the week – the average amount given to low-income families who are on CalFresh – the Food Stamp program for California. I already have two families participating in the challenge, and would love to add a few more to include in this story. Of course, even if you don’t want to be written about, I encourage you to take part in the challenge just to get a taste of what it’s like to make 7 days of meals for your family on only $50.

Second, I am looking for one or more families who are currently on Food Stamps and would be willing to talk about their reality of receiving benefits. This will not be anonymous, and I know I’m asking a lot of you. But I shared my story. Now it’s your turn.

CLICK HERE for more information.

If you are interested in being a part of this article, email me at cristen.dillon@pressdemocrat.com. The deadline to contact me is coming up soon as I’m hoping that your challenge will be finished by Monday, September 10th. If you email me, I can give you more information.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Be Sociable, Share!



  1. Recap: Haircuts and preschool for toddlers | The Village

    [...] Food Stamp Challenge I’m really excited about the newest story I’m working on about what it’s like to live on a Food Stamp budget. In fact, I already have two families who are taking on the challenge, and several people have written me with their stories. But there’s a personal reason why I’m doing this challenge. Read my blog to find out more. [...]

    August 30th, 2012 9:54 am

  2. Joe in N Calif

    My wife and I lived on food stamps and two trips to food banks a month for about six months. We were able to eat fairly well on that, had all the staples, very few packaged foods. Didn’t buy expensive cuts of meat. Bought lots of cornmeal, legumes, flour, rice, bacon ends and pieces, whatever meat was cheap, some apples, carrots, celery (well…the celery was a hit an miss, if it was over a buck a bunch, we waited), cabbage, onions, garlic, potatoes. Lots of crock pot cooking, soups and stews. Checked the damaged packaging and discontinued rack every time. Bought cheap coffee and made it weak. We did budget in spices and seasonings – but you can often find good bargains on those, and they last a long time.

    Shame? None at all. We’ve helped others who were down on their luck. Things happen, circumstances change. It was just our turn for some bad times.

    With some moderate cooking skills, and some imagination, you can fix very tasty, wholesome meals on that. Oh…it did help that one of our friends had chickens, so we could count on at least a dozen eggs each week. But eggs are not all that expensive.

    An example – for two people, dice up a little bacon and get it rendering down in a skillet, dice up a few ounces of pork, beef, or chicken (in general, we have found that pork gives you the best bang for the buck, very little waste), and add that to the skillet. Dice up a potato or two, add that, maybe add some onion. When that is almost done, add two well beaten eggs stretched with some milk or water, also, have them seasoned with salt, pepper, a few drops of Tobasco (doesn’t add any heat if you just use a few drops, but brightens the flavor). Maybe serve wrapped in flour tortillas. Actually, you can feed three with that. Cost? Maybe two to three bucks.

    Or a big pot of posole. If you like, thicken it with cut up corn tortillas. Makes a real hearty stew, for about 30 to 50 cents a serving.

    Oh, we also managed to buy milk, cheese, tortillas and bread (although I often made my own, or we would make cornbread).

    September 8th, 2012 9:45 pm

  3. The Food Stamp Challenge | The Village

    [...] Read my own personal story HERE. [...]

    September 13th, 2012 9:19 am

Submit Your Comments


Required, will not be published