This weekend I stood in a Walmart checkout line behind a mother of three using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a government assistance program designed to help low-income households pay for food. She had placed basics on the conveyor belt: milk, bread, cheese, children’s fever reducer, apples, raw chicken, Cheerios, rice, and a few other items. I looked at my own shopping cart filled with teeth whitening strips, steaks for grilling, water guns for the kids, and three fun nail polish shades and I thought to myself, “I don’t need any of these things” yet each item made the very deliberate transition from the shelf into my cart simply because I wanted them.
A couple behind me grumbled about how slow the line was moving and when they realized the cashier was having problems processing the woman’s SNAP EBT card, they began badmouthing her use of government assistance at an alarming volume. “Oh my God, must be nice to get your groceries for free!” while the other snapped, “Free?! WE’RE the ones paying for her groceries!”
I should have said something; instead I looked down. I couldn’t bear to look into the face of the mother who undoubtedly heard those harsh words. I couldn’t bring myself to turn around and say something because honestly, at that moment I just didn’t know what to say. I just stood there like an idiot with my head down feeling sad and disappointed. Shame on me.
Where was our human decency? Our sense of community? Our understanding? Our compassion? Have we become so smug of a society that we think less of those who have fallen on hard times? Please say it isn’t so. Show me a man who has never needed help and I’ll call your bluff.
I was deeply saddened that this woman who was not so different than me needed help feeding her growing children. I felt angry with the ignorant fools behind me who will surely go on making dangerous assumptions about those in need.
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