"I don't like that assumption," she told me.
In the first two days of my SNAP challenge I felt very focused on rules. In general, the guidelines for this exercise are fairly loose: Try to feed yourself on $4-ish dollars per day. After that, things are sort of up in the air. Some people intentionally eat only what they purchased with that money, others take advantage of free food when its available. I felt torn between trying to do the challenge authentically, or do it in a way that was authentic to myself. Do I drink the free coffee I have access to at work? I sure couldn’t afford to buy coffee.
When I was discussing doing the SNAP challenge at work, I mentioned my dilemma to my supervisor. I told her that I wasn't sure if I would drink the free coffee in the office kitchen.
"Why wouldn't you?" she asked.
"I don't know, not everyone who gets SNAP works in an office where there is free coffee. I bet most people don't. I'm sure some do, but..." I rambled off some generalization.
I was reflecting on this today. I work in the field of hunger relief. I help people apply for food benefits every day. Sometimes I still am blind to my own assumptions about what "the poor" do, where they work, and what their lives are like. Just because a person works in an office, doesn't mean they aren't having a tough time keeping food on the table. Over the last decade, I’ve worked both “skilled” jobs as well as service industry jobs. I've worked office jobs where I made barely $9 a hour.
Just because it's not manual labor or in the service industry, doesn't mean the job pays well. This is the secret of many of America’s working poor. Full time work does not always equate to livable wages. And even if you are paid a living wage doesn't mean that you work full time. No one person's circumstances are the same. While I'm participating in the SNAP challenge, I'm still going to drink the free office coffee knowing that some other people who also get SNAP are doing the same thing while they are at work.*
*After I originally posted this on Facebook, my friend Merrill pointed out that one’s workplace is not the only place where a person can get a free cup of coffee. Banks, churches, and service agencies also regularly provide coffee to whoever wants it.