Reflections from a “free lunch” kid

When I was in elementary school, my aunt’s selection of color crayons was always a pain point for me. Each year, we would get the smallest pack, which I believe was an eight pack. To add insult to my injury, it would mostly be the generic brand. I remember staring longingly at the 64 pack Crayola that my BFF at the time always got. I would look down at my crayons and declare with a shaky internal child voice that, “When I had kids, they would always get the 64 pack.”

I was a free lunch kid from kindergarten to twelfth grade. The program eventually expanded to cover breakfast. I can remember that some years the teacher would discreetly give us “free lunch” kids our meal tickets. Other teachers made the production of calling us out to get them. Were those tickets a different color than people whose parents paid for their lunch? I would stare at the lunches Jody brought from home. They always looked so much better. Don’t get me wrong, I had some really good lunches. In elementary school, a favorite was turkey gravy over mashed potatoes with a roll and trail mix. But again that internal child voice would surface about what I would do when I had kids.

Other things stand out. If something like toilet paper was on sale with a coupon, we would all be queued up in line with our coupon, money and toilet paper, sugar or whatever the important item was. I remember government choose, beans, peanut butter, applesauce, etc. I can remember going away for sporting games in junior and high school and my aunt giving me a few dollars to buy dinner after the game. I barely had enough for a burger, and again that voice, which at that point in time had gotten resentful, would surface. I was so sure what I would do when I had kids. Even things like McDonald’s. We only got McDonald’s a handful of times when I was growing up. It was a meal that we ate so slowly and savored.

We always had new clothes for the first day of school. I think most times we got enough to last a few days with a “You’ll get more later,” fib attached. As the youngest girl, I was lucky since I had hand me downs. When I got my first job, my aunt made it very clear that I was on my own for new school clothes since I had a job. It was at this point, that I began to get it. Money didn’t grow on trees. We also had to buy stuff for the house, and like my aunt, I was looking at the sale ads for coupons. I should probably mention that my aunt raised me and my sisters and her four kids. At one point, there were seven of us kids.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized we were poor. It was when I saw my aunt making macaroni and cheese with government cheese and Top Roman noodles that I got it. My aunt had done all she could do to stretch her money. I have mentioned before that it is very weird to transition to a different socio-economic position than you grow up in. Yet and still, I still know how to stretch a dollar. Nothing gets wasted. A former roommate used to tease me how I would use the bar soap down until it was nothing, but that is what we did.

I say all of that to say this, as a child who grew up in the welfare system from free meals, food stamps, medical coupons, government food, etc., I can see the difference those services made in my life. As an adult, I realize that those services weren’t “free.” But, as an adult, I can also say that the tax dollars I pay in my adult life are a testimony to how important those services are. You can’t tell me that a child who is hungry is going to be able to do well in school. You can’t tell me that a child who is sick and without the means to go a doctor is going to get better.

Based on what I can see, the proposed healthcare and budget set forth by the current administration will do more harm than good to the poor, sick and elderly. Let’s look at the Christian Bible. The tenet of the Christian faith is pretty basic. It can be summed up in one word: Love. If you are foaming out of your mouth spreading hate and discord, you simply have not met the person who said to love your neighbor as yourself. You have not opened a Bible that is filled with scriptures about caring for those marginalized, poor and oppressed. I invite you to read the following scriptures: Proverbs 31:9, Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 146:9, Psalm 82:3, Deuteronomy 14:29, James 1:27, Isaiah 1:23 and Jeremiah 22:3.

What bothers me the most is that we have people who profess to be Christians signing off on the travesty that is the Trump administration. His conduct pre- and post-election was and is abhorrent. I believe that everyone’s path to God is their own, but I do wonder who on earth some of these people met because it is not the God of love who I know.

Are there people who abuse the system? Of course, but I can tell you having grown up in the system that it isn’t glamorous with people eating steak and lobster every meal. I never went hungry, but you can bet we weren’t living high on the hog either.


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