Since becoming involved with the St. Louis Area Foodbank and their Young Professionals Board, I’ve become more sensitive to hunger issues in the region and the administration of assistance to families in need. Yesterday, I was in the check-out line at a local grocery store. While in line, I noticed a lady in front of me with a cart full of food. She had on a uniform, so I assumed she stopped at the grocery store on her way home from work. She held a blue card in her hand and I slyly attempted to see if she had a blue US Bank card like mine or an EBT Card.

Why? Just being nosy.

I felt guilty as she noticed me looking at her card and she moved it to her other hand, as if she was embarrassed that someone noticed she was receiving federal assistance so that she could feed her family. I diverted my attention by checking Facebook on my phone to pass the time, but I couldn’t help but think of a news article that I’d recently seen. A member of the Missouri Legislature wants to pass a bill that prohibits families receiving SNAP benefits from purchasing cookies, steak, seafood, energy drinks, sodas, and chips. So, I decided to be nosy again and check out her cart.

From what I could see, her cart contained family size portions of ground beef (it’s usually cheaper to buy the larger portions and then separate before freezing), some fresh fruits and vegetables, canned vegetables, milk, juice, pasta, a few pizzas, frozen meals and other food. She also had non-food items, but necessary items, such as toilet paper, which cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits.

I looked at my cart. I had cookies, chips, and soda.

After a few minutes, I looked up again. The woman was studying the screen to see the total price for her items add up. She looked worried as the cashier neared the end of the food on the belt. The cashier whispered something to her, and as he scanned the last item, he looked at her and nodded. A look of relief came over her face and she swiped two cards: one for personal items, and the EBT card for food items.

I was judgmental.

Shame on me.

I embarrassed her by purposefully “investigating” her payment method, and examined her personal choice of what she fed her family, while I was planning on putting junk food in my own body. I’m no better of a person than she is. She shouldn’t feel judged or ashamed because she needs help. She was making smart choices for her family, and everyone, despite economic status, should have the freedom to make choices for their families.

Jennifer Haynes
St. Louis Area Foodbank Young Professionals Board Chair