Two days ago, I used food stamps for the first time.

I'd seen my friends and neighbors use them before, but it was always such a mystifying process. I remember being with a friend who bought fresh fish with his EBT card and saying "Wait, what? You can buy meat with that?" A combination of talk radio garbage and stereotypes of poverty led me to believe that SNAP benefits were relegated to boxes of macaroni and cheese and powdered formula.

I actually got nervous when I checked out, my basket full of fresh fruits and vegetables and soy milk. I held my breath when I swiped my card. It all rang up and it was over. I had $100 left for the month on that card. Lightheaded, I started smiling while I walked to my car.

Yesterday morning, I'd gotten a $75 overdraft fee on my checking account. I knew that was going to come out of my food budget, it's what I always sacrifice first. That was $75 I wouldn't be able to use to feed myself or put gas in my car. But it only felt bad for a second, because for the first time, I didn't need to entirely rely on my limited income to feed myself on top of everything else. It was such a huge relief.

One of the most challenging aspects of service is living on a poverty income. Service members know this intimately, they choose it. But in talking to my friends who work in different industries (entertainment, education, retail, etc.), it shocked me how many of them are living in poverty too. Most of them didn't want to say how much they made. None of them thought they were eligible for SNAP. All of them were. There's more to say about millennials and poverty rates, but that's for another time.

SNAP means more than just food in my fridge. It's peace of mind, it's healthier choices, it's food justice. It's giving me what I need to serve my community better. It's doing its job.

Haley McKnight
PRC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Montana No Kid Hungry
Butte, MT