Tony writes in:
About two weeks ago, I lost my job. I was being paid cash to do some maintenance work but the guy hiring me couldn’t afford it. A few days after that I tried to use my credit card to buy groceries and I was over my credit limit. Right now I have $20 in my wallet and that’s all the money I have. I have a five year old kid and we don’t have much food in the cupboard. What do I do? I’m sending this from the library. I hope you’ll answer me soon.
I did send Tony an email as soon as I received his message, but I figured that the information that I had collected for him might be useful to more people than just Tony.
Tony’s immediate problem, obviously, is to make sure that there is actually food on the table for his children. That’s an immediate need, and compared to that, most of his other concerns are secondary. Here are some steps to take to keep food on the table for the moment.
Options to Keep Food on the Table
SNAP refers to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is the official name of the program often referred to as “food stamps.” Of course, today, such benefits aren’t delivered with paper coupons like they used to – there aren’t paper “food stamps” any more. Instead, they’re delivered by EBT – you essentially get a debit card, which you then use in the checkout line like any other debit card.
This program exists to help people like Tony who are attempting just to keep food on the table during trying financial times. They’ve also gone to great lengths to minimize the “food stamp” social stigma by moving the program to debit cards, so you don’t have to feel self-conscious going into a grocery store and slapping down the old-style paper coupons.
You can actually apply online for SNAP benefits, so it’s pretty straightforward.
At the same time, you can also check in on your neighborhood’s food pantry, where people can get food that has been set aside for people in situations like this. Food pantries are a great service, one that I would absolutely use if I were in a situation where I was struggling to get food on the table for my children.
You can find your local food pantry at this useful site.
Local churches and other religious organizations
Most local houses of worship have leaders that are always willing to extend a helping hand to people in genuine need. At my own church, for example, the pastor actually has a small fund just for that purpose – to put a $20 bill or a $50 bill in the pocket of someone who really needs a break in life.
If you’re really in this kind of situation, visit a local house of worship and ask for help. As much as organized religion is criticized, it is often a very effective charitable organization on the local level.
Once the problem of having food on the table is addressed, Tony needs to look at secondary concerns, such as housing and preparing to return to the job market.
Addressing Secondary Concerns
Look at the Office of Family Assistance (OFA).
This government program offers short-term assistance to individuals who are attempting to return to the workforce, helping them to keep basic bills paid while they seek work. This is helpful for those like Tony who are out of work without unemployment insurance.
Look for low-cost housing
Don’t be afraid to go to a very minimal situation, such as a one or two-room apartment. The key is to keep the rent as low as possible. You may also want to look into local low income housing programs.
Contact your utility providers
Explain your situation and see if they have programs available for you. You may want to visit the website of your utility providers before contacting them so you’re aware of the specifics of their programs.
Start looking for work
Look for anything and everything. I would suggest starting at entry-level positions with high turnover, such as positions at chain stores and chain restaurants. The key isn’t to find a great job immediately, but simply to find work that brings home an income.
Recognize this isn’t the end
You have a child and a future that are well worth fighting for, and if you’re willing to stand up and put in some hard work for that child and that future, you can make many positive things happen. You cannot give up on yourself or on that child of yours. During this process, you’re probably going to get knocked down by life a few times. Don’t succumb to that. Stand up, brush yourself off, and keep fighting. You will find a better tomorrow.