On Food Stamps and Designer Jeans

On Food Stamps and Designer Jeans

Have you ever seen that mom wearing designer jeans and heels in front of you at the grocery store with two tiny kids in tow? The one who you don’t look twice at, until she pulls out a Food Stamp card? Now suddenly you find yourself questioning how she can afford that purse, those shoes, that makeup, those tattoos? It makes you feel a little guilty, but kind of angry and very confused.

I’ve seen her. I’ve judged her. I’VE BEEN HER.

I’ve spent my entire life working hard. I worked hard to obtain my degrees. I worked hard to land some pretty incredible jobs. I created opportunities for myself, all of which led to living a food stampsfinancially stable life. I bought nice clothes and shoes and makeup. I sat comfortable in my own skin knowing I earned these things.

Fast forward a few years. I’m a newly single mom trying to figure out my next steps. I was somewhat selectively applying for jobs because I needed to find one that would cover the cost of daycare for my sons. I was registered with employment agencies and attended job fairs. I took free courses online at the library to enhance my marketability while my kids played at my feet. A few months later, my savings were gone. I was struggling. I lived in a shady apartment and scrambled to pay rent. I sold handmade tags and greeting cards and tried to cover our expenses.

It took longer than it should have for me to realize I needed help; that I needed to apply for government assistance. It was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. I called my mom who lives 1,500 miles away and sobbed while she spent an hour building me up. I felt ashamed. I felt like I failed. I cried so hard I had to pull my car over twice before I made it to the office. I had to sit in my car to calm myself down enough to enter the building. I walked in and was ashamed of my clothes. I was wearing designer jeans.


I choked out my request to the woman at the front desk. She came around as I collapsed onto the floor where she sat and cried with me. She told me I was going to be okay. She told me she was proud of me for coming in. She walked me through the application. I gave her my bank records, the kids’ birth certificates and lease agreement, and then I handed her my resume. I still don’t know why I brought my resume. She held both sides of my face and said, “You look at me. You deserve this help. You are a taxpayer, and this service was created for you.”

I was on SNAP for 3 months. I was offered a job shortly after applying for assistance. I took the job and more than 3 years later, I am still here.

I share this story with you in hopes that you might smile at that woman in the grocery store. Maybe you will even tell her today is her day. I can promise you she will remember your kindness and it will help her through those dark weeks.

And if you are that woman at the grocery store, hold your head up, mama. You got this.


  1. Good job, mama! Way to hang in there for you and your kids. I was especially touched by the interaction you described between you and the woman at the SNAP office. As I neared the middle of the article, I was so afraid that the assistance office was going to be a cold and insensitive experience. I was so pleasantly thrilled at her compassion and grace. Lots of faith in humanity right now!

  2. I was there too! I was a teacher, laid off during budget cuts. My Christmas present to me before I was told I was losing my job was a coach purse. I would be standing in line in nice clothes because I had a substitute job for the day, and pull the SNAP card out of my very nice purse. I always felt so embarrassed. But we made it through, and I’m in a better place now.

    • Heads high, mama’s! I’m proud that you did what you needed to do for your family. So grateful for the SNAP program. ❤️

  3. I think all people on welfare should be forced to take randomized drug tests and wear a government issued uniform. No designer clothes, no fancy cell phones etc. The purpose of welfare is provide basic needs. If you can afford designer clothes, then you clearly do not need govt. assistance and a essentially gaming the system. In short, welfare recipients should be forced to look like a welfare recipients. This would encourage people to get off the welfare system as soon as possible.

    • I believe it was the great President Lincoln, your namesake, who said, “Once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow-citizens you can never regain their esteem and respect.”

      I’m sorry you have lost so much faith in your fellow citizens that you would condemn them to government issued uniforms so that they could “look poor.”

      You are absolutely entilted to your opinion, though it ensures you will never have my esteem or respect.

    • Lincoln, I truly hope you are never in a situation beyond your control, through no fault of your own that allows others to sit in self-righteous judgement of you. You may not even realize that your comments paint you as a heartless person with no empathy for your fellow man. I am very cautious about what I say online, not for any altruistic reason but because if my children or grandchildren ever run across my online life in the future, they will see me for the person I tried to be. I don’t always succeed but I want them to be proud of the stances I took, the compassion I extended like Tara did when she bared her soul in this piece. Your desire to “mark” the poor is a modern day scarlet letter or the General Government’s requirement of the Star of David. Is this really the person you want to display to the world?

    • So one can’t possibly buy their clothes from a consignment shop or have them prior to having to sign up for assistance? Shit I am not on assistance but happy to say while low income, my daughter has a designer outfit, well at least name brand from Juicy. Know how much is actually cost me? $2! Shorts were a buck and so was the t-shirt. Get over yourself.

    • I’m fairly certain Lincoln is a troll and not worth our time. I wonder if he/she would hire someone in a “welfare uniform”.

    • We are a Medicaid, WIC and government assistance family. My husband makes a great salary! We live in a nice house and drive nice cars. I have a few designer handbags and shoes.

      We also our a foster care family!!!

      Do not be so quick to judgement. Sitting in the welfare office alone is enough to make you feel like you earned the money. It’s rough!!! ???

  4. My family was in a situation where we needed assistance for a while when my husband was in between careers. I felt so guilty going to the grocery store carrying a Kate Spade tote that I had received as a birthday gift, handing over a SNAP card to pay for groceries. We used our SNAP cards for 3 months and then my husband found an awesome job out of state.

  5. I cannot tell you what this article means to me.
    Thank you for sharing this– it is so hard not to be embarrassed– and same… when you get something nice– you keep it nice! 5 years later if you are in hard time, but you have a paid off Coach bag, you don’t go out and waste $10 on a cheap purse just to satisfy other people’s expectations.
    It is hard to share that you used food assistance until you are off of it and can’t be pointed at as hard.

  6. Thank you. I am that woman. I fell at work in December and destroyed my right knee. After a month in the hospital and months in a wheelchair, our savings was depleted. My husband was working in the same place and was fired after confronting ownership. They didn’t have insurance. So three college degrees. No jobs. I’m injured. Oh and I was pregnant when I fell.

    After four months, we were forced to apply. I have decent clothes and jewelry and such because I used to earn well. Since Lodi g income, I have purchased one pair of jeans for $36 and some Old Navy dresses for pregnancy.

    I’m sure I don’t look poor, but I certainly am. Maxed out credit cards. Checking my bank balance every day. Medical bills well into the six figures.

    At least I have a brand new baby girl and a wonderful husband and a supportive family. I’d be lost without them.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story of encouragement. We should not judge people based on how they look. It’s the actions and the words they speak that we need to consider. Keep doing great things. God bless you. Janel from Ohio.

  8. Tara a very touching post! Actions are louder than words and truly this post shows how a small gesture can affect someone. We all have a righ to be ourselves, our clothes dont define us our attitude in life does! Kudos


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