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April 2, 2014

Thanks to God and the State of Massachusetts

First of all I have to start by saying I know Massachusetts is actually a “commonwealth,” not that I actually know what that means.

Second, this probably seems like two random things together, God and Massachusetts, but this is something that we frequently say at the Boston YAV house, especially about food. We are now in the second half of the year which means we are not on a locavore diet and are now on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally called food stamps.) Part of “simple living,” one of the core principles of the YAV program, means that we don’t make a lot of money. Housing, utilities, and transportation are all paid for and we get a small monthly stipend for food, medical, and basic living expenses. So we qualified for SNAP benefits, especially living in such an expensive place as Massachusetts.

It has also been good life experience. We talk about food insecurity, government assistance, the farm bill, etc., all of the time. Food, in some form or fashion, is a constant topic in our house. We have the opportunity to really experience what it’s like, the whole process from the application (which was much harder for four college graduates than it should have been), to the interview with our case workers, to waiting for letters in the mail, and finally getting approved and being able to use the cards.

We would be able to pay for groceries out of our small stipend, but probably not buy the same quality food that we had become accustomed to. For 6 months we ate real fresh food, meals made from scratch, and we weren’t willing to give it all up. We now have a spring CSA share, which we will pay for later with SNAP, and we use our EBT cards for supplemental things at the grocery store and farmers markets. (Instead of paper stamps to purchase food, the money is on a plastic card that looks like a debit or credit card. This is less noticeable, which hopefully means less stigma and embarrassment for the users. Why there is such a stigma is a whole other blog post topic.) We are able to buy fresh fruit, milk, organic cereal and granola bars at the grocery store, eggs, jam, and cheese at the farmers market and not have to worry about sacrificing health and nutrition for cost.

We are very, very lucky as this is not the case for most people on SNAP. They are dividing meager dollars too many ways, and often food, since it is not a fixed payment, ends up getting cut. The other YAVs and I are not only relying on the benefits for food, and are able to eat out or get tea or hot chocolate from a coffee shop occasionally if we choose.

Instead of doing a “food stamp challenge” for a week as several people and groups have done (including some congresspeople which is great), we are simply living and using the benefits to help pay for food. We had to get past any of our own personal stigma and resentment about taking government assistance, and now using SNAP has become normal.

And we are quite grateful for it.

We still thank God for the many hands that prepared our food and got it to our plates, but (and this may be a little sacrilegious) now when we buy groceries we also thank the state of Massachusetts.

Tags: boston, food insecurity, food justice, food stamps, snap, yav, young adult volunteers


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