Help When It’s Needed

By Laurie Bertram Roberts

This was originally published in the Jackson Free Press on Oct. 2, 2013 and was posted on my old blog

Years ago when I was a young mother, I worked two, sometimes three, low-wage restaurant jobs. This was not easy work. It was extraordinarily taxing—not only on my body but my mind. Wait staff have a lot of tasks to complete. Plus, they have to smile and be pleasant even when customers and management serve up a big old side of mistreatment.
Working those kinds of jobs always involves much more hard work than money, which is why I had two and three at a time. But even when I worked two full-time and one part-time job, I still couldn’t make ends meet.
Recently, fast-food workers across the country went on strike. They asked for something fairly simple: a living wage. Make no mistake: The multinational companies that employ these workers can afford to pay better. But many from the right-wing political sphere called striking workers greedy, lazy and un-American.
Fast-forward to the congressional debate over food-stamp benefits (or SNAP), which has the potential to affect many of these same workers. I keep hearing from conservatives—and even some liberals—that “those people” just need to work harder. If only “they” would do that, then the collective American “we” wouldn’t have to take care of “them.” The problem with that thinking is that many people who receive SNAP do work.
Surprisingly absent from the broader discussion of responsibility has been the topic of corporate responsibility in the matter. When companies pay their employees fairly, people who work don’t need food stamps. I find this disjointed thinking odd and non-congruent. It seems as if, in the eyes of some, the working poor are wrong no matter what they do.
In all my working years—on and off public assistance—I have contributed to the community. I am raising epic, awesome kids (yes, I am biased). I resent it when others imply that because people need assistance to put food on the table, they are drug addicts, lazy or worth less than other people.
Every person on assistance has a story. Some may have stories you approve of, and some may not. At the end of the day, I would like to think I live in a country that believes even people we don’t like deserve to eat, one that is willing to feed people in need even when we don’t approve of every food choice. I want to have faith that I live in a country that believes providing free school lunches to hungry children is a good and moral thing to do.
I hope my country shows me I’m right.
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