Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My Secret Double Life: A Glimpse into the WIC Experience

Many probably don't know this about us, but we accepted government assistance in the form of WIC and ARkids insurance while Michael was in PT school.  We were grateful for the grocery help, and even more grateful for the help with prescriptions, doctor bills, hospital bills, sleep clinic bills, etc.  Having our 2 kids in daycare would have pretty much wiped out my small private school teaching salary, so the decision for me to stay at home while we lived on student loans was pretty clear cut.  The student loans, however, were limited, and we hesitantly admitted that government help was something that we needed to accept in the short term.  It made us feel better knowing that we would be paying back into that system soon after.

Those WIC shopping trips were some of the most humiliating experiences I have had in my life.  It was a painstaking experience to sift through the shelves to find the specific ounces, brands, and products specified as approved on those checks.  In order to redeem the checks for things like milk that we needed, we also had to accept the other items listed even though we already had an abundance of Cheerios and beans. On more than one occasion, after I had spent a long time going through the lists to make sure I had everything on the checks, I would arrive at the milk or bread aisles only to find that they didn't have the approved brand of bread or the quart size of milk.  That one loaf or one quart would mean that they couldn't process ANY of the order, so I would leave my cart and go home in tears.  

I learned quickly not to go with the kids.  I learned quickly to check out the milk and the bread first.  I learned quickly to have the pamphlets handy so that I could defend my food choices to unfamiliar cashiers.  I learned quickly to go during times that I would be less likely to run into former teaching colleagues or fellow church members.

I have seen plenty of scoffing on Facebook about people using food stamps to pay for their Pop Tarts while they check their iPhones at the register.  You'd better believe that I left my iPhone (a birthday gift from my parents) in the car on my WIC shopping trips.  I refused to put anything else in that cart that wasn't on the checks because I didn't want to be judged.  Instead, I did 2 separate shopping trips each week:  one for WIC items and one for the other items.  I learned to dress down and go to stores like Cash Savers where the cashiers were often struggling moms who were on WIC too.  I really felt like I was leading a double life at times!  

One of the most exhilarating feelings once Michael graduated was to be able to go shopping and buy WHATEVER I WANTED TO BUY!  The funny thing is, I bought pretty much the same things (minus a couple of boxes of Cheerios and a few bags of beans).  But before we are too far removed from those days, I wanted to record it here.  I know there are people who abuse the system.  But I pray that we can all look past our judgement to see the lives of the people in front of us.  Yes, our systems need reforming.  But I pray that our scoffing can instead be turned into vision to see people who are in need, and the compassion to do something about it.