Liz and Dawn, whose names have been changed to protect their identity, spoke more broadly about the difficulties of living in poverty.
“If I had the choice, I wouldn’t want to be poor like I am,” Dawn said. “But I wouldn’t want to be rich, either. I would just want to be able to pay my bills and get food.”
Dawn works at an area convenience store, but her wages are not enough. She briefly fantasized about winning the lottery, and how she would give back.
“But I can’t bring myself to spend the dollar on the ticket,” she said with a laugh.
One theme that emerged from a conversation with the two women was frustration with obtaining adequate assistance from state or county governments.
“I think one of the reasons we come here is because the state benefits are so low,” Liz said. “They say we make too much, but there’s just no way to pay the bills.”
“When you’re struggling and you’re turned away, it gets really discouraging,” she said. She remembered at one point receiving $14 per month in assistance, and then having that taken away, despite no change in her household size or income.
“I get that people abuse (the benefits), but not everybody does,” Dawn said. “That FoodShare was my lifeline.”
Liz remembered shopping at midnight when her FoodShare money came through, because her family was starving up until that point. With four children, the couple hundred dollars did not last long.
Neither woman is totally immune to self-pity, but not for long.
“I whine and cry to (Dawn), but then I get over it,” Liz said.
“I have small (pity parties), but then something goes right for us, or something horrible happens to someone else, and I think ‘What the heck was I thinking?’” Dawn said.
Given their experiences living through poverty, what don’t people understand about the phenomenon? “It’s not about being lazy, or not wanting to work, or not having any ambition,” Liz said. “There’s always some underlying issue that has gotten you there, that’s making it impossible to get out.”