Like millions of Americans, there was a time in my family’s life when we were on public assistance. My husband had been laid off, I was pregnant with our second child, and we needed help. Getting SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid were total game-changers for us, and I will be forever grateful that they were available in our time of need.
But that doesn’t mean that the experience of being on public assistance wasn’t fraught with guilt, humiliation, and judgment from others — and I know I’m not alone in that experience. That’s why I was blown away when I came across a recent viral post written by a mom who has been there herself, and who took it upon herself to defend a fellow mom who was shamed at the store for paying for her groceries with a SNAP card.
Nicole Marso, a mom of two from Colorado, wrote in her now-viral Facebook post that she was in the self-checkout line when she noticed a mom of three going about her business, scanning her groceries while gracefully managing her young kids. But after she’d finished scanning and was in the process of paying, a rude woman in the back of the line decided to take it upon herself to announce that this mom was paying for her items with food stamps — and to loudly mock her for this.
“After she got all her goods scanned and kept her tiny offspring as quiet as she could she went to pay,” writes Marso, “I heard a lady behind me, with her nice LV purse, iPhone X in hand, big rocks on her fingers and wrists, nice shoes (you get the picture) … [s]ay loud enough for everyone in line to hear but quiet enough to sound like a total b*tch, ‘Of course she’s paying with food stamps.’”
To say that this woman was not just rude but completely out of line would be a huge understatement. This mom was minding her own business, not causing any disruptions, and just trying to get some groceries for her kids. She didn’t deserve any of this.
Having been that mom in the grocery store myself, using my SNAP card to pay for my family’s food, I find this absolutely stomach-turning.
Thankfully, Marso — herself a former food stamp recipient — kindly came to this mom’s rescue.
In her post, Marso describes the mom looking back at her “in embarrassment” and the sweet, empathetic words she exchanged with her: “I responded, ‘Do you boo, your kids are adorable.’”
Just a few simple words, but man, can this kind of thing mean so much to a mother who is struggling — and who really doesn’t need anyone’s disrespectful, aggressive commentary.
Marso then went on to describe her own story as a recipient of food stamps. She shared that when she was on public assistance, she would seek out the self-checkout line in particular, because then she didn’t have to face the cashier.
“I was that mom,” she wrote. “I went to self checkout in hopes no one would see me paying with an EBT card. I avoided checkout lines because what would the cashier think.”
This is so relatable. While it’s true that food stamp cards these days are nearly indistinguishable from any other kind of credit card (at least in my experience), when you hand it over to a clerk and tell them what kind of card you are using, you are risking exposure, which can make you feel stressed and vulnerable.
But looking back on the experience, Marso feels nothing but pride over what she went through, and what she overcame. That’s why she’s kept her food stamp card and shared a picture of herself proudly displaying it in her Facebook post.
“When I stopped using food stamps I was so proud,” Marso wrote. “I kept saying throw that thing out but I never did. And today, I know why. It’s a constant reminder of where I was.”
At the end of her post, Marso takes another moment to give the judgy woman at the checkout line a piece of her mind — because this is not just about this one instance, but about how so many mothers and families are treated on a daily basis. The misconceptions about families that collect public assistance — that they are lazy, mooching off the system, etc. — are extremely prevalent, unfortunately.
No, says Marso, moms who use food stamps “don’t eat steak and lobster.” Instead, they’re counting their pennies, working their butts off, and rationing out that monthly food stamp allowance “between turkey sammichs and formula and water bottles.”
Her advice for the nay-sayers, or anyone who just doesn’t “get” why someone would need public assistance in the first place?
“[I]nstead of judging a mom with a food stamps card, remember we aren’t all born at the top, some of us have to build that way,” she wrote. “Not everyone is here for a handout.”
Marso tells Babble that she thinks part of the stigma here comes from the fact that a small percentage of Americans do take advantage of public assistance programs, but that this is such a minuscule portion of the population that it makes no sense to judge everyone else. In fact, she says, most people use food stamps as a “stepping stone” to get out of a tough time.
Since her post went viral, she shares that she has had many women message her sharing their own food stamp stories, including the ways in which the assistance rescued them from dark times in their lives.
“I had so many women messaging me say they had to get on assistance for a few months because they left an abusive relationship and had to completely start over,” Marso shares. “So we truly never know what that mom, using a food stamps card is really going through. The best thing we can do is trust and believe her intentions are good.”
Luckily, the response to the post has been “100% positive,” the mom shares. “My heart is overwhelmed by all the love and kindness I’ve received,” she says.
As for where Marso is now, she is the proud mom of two beautiful kids and two rescue dogs. She works as a part-time waitress and owner of an MLM Facebook business with hopes to start real estate school soon.
Go mama! Here’s to all the moms and parents out there struggling, working, striving, and having high hopes for the future. You can do this, and please remember that whatever it takes to get you where you are going is a beautiful thing.