Forty Dollars

Alan Dallmann | Coordinator of the Coalition to End Hunger
Hunger Solutions Innovator at The Food Bank of Western

The Coalition to End Hunger is made up of many voices, including service providers, health care professionals, business leaders, government agencies, religious associations and educational institutions. But probably the most important voice of all is the voice of those we serve — the clients’. As the coordinator of this coalition, I recently had the opportunity to speak with a western Massachusetts resident who brought-to-light two important insights about the need for emergency food and its benefits:

  1. You might not have control over your income
    “I was married to a guy who was… very controlling and abusive…We had 3 kids together, and also then he had two older kids. So when we moved here from Florida, I was working, but by the time I had my youngest it was impossible to actually have a job and afford the daycare for three very young children, and then the two school age kids. So he was technically supposed to be the breadwinner, but he was really unstable, and he would… he’d go get a job, and he’d work for a while, and then he’d quit. And… it was a cycle.This went on for a really long time. I had applied to UMASS and gotten in there, and I had grants and scholarships so that was covered. (Those funds) would go in my bank account, and he’d take that out and go to spend it on whatever…., yeah sometimes we’d have a little bit of money for food… but we got five kids and two adults, and, you know, sometimes it was like, “Here’s 40 dollars”  and you’d  go to the grocery store and that was it for the week.  We’d end up running up my credit cards so it was really stressful.”
  2. Which can lead to not qualifying for benefits:
    “But like I said it’s like I need to feed my kids and that was the most important thing so, I mean, I had gone at some point to try to apply for benefits, and that was not a good experience. My husband at this time, he was actually earning a paycheck so.. even trying to explain the circumstances, they didn’t (get that) he’s keeping the money or he’s just using it on something else. So yeah, (it) was pretty harsh.

Not qualifying for benefits in this case certainly did not mean assistance wasn’t needed.  This story reminds me that not every situation can be addressed through traditional needs-based calculations and it makes me appreciate those organizations that provide food with no (or minimal) requirements.