Getting Over the Embarrassment: Food Stamps and a Trip to the Food Bank

Welcome to Week 3 of Ask Dr. McCale!

If you're just joining us for the first time, this is a 6-Week series on the hard realities of unemployment.  Our expert, Dr. McCale, recently published the book Waiting for Change: Impacts on life, family, work, and the new 99% reality. She also knows firsthand the anxiety that goes with being unemployed.

Here are the posts from this series, you may have missed so far:

Think It Won't Happen To You?

The Inspiration Behind Waiting For Change

As a reminder, Ask Dr. McCale, will be posted every Friday through August 3rd.


If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe via RSS or Email (look in the sidebar) so you won't miss a single post. 


 Q:  In your book, you mention facing the embarrassment of having to  apply for food stamps and going  to a local food bank. 

What would you say to readers who are about to face similar, yet necessary steps in their season of unemployment?

It’s hard to “get over” that feeling of embarrassment.

No one wants to do it.  The statistics actually bear that out: most people turn to family and friends first before turning to social agencies.

I think so many people are hung up on the images of “soup kitchens” and how none of us wants to believe that we could be “those” people that we fail to understand that we – them? – we are all one in the same.

I think another element of embarrassment is the unknown: how will I be treated?

No one wants to put themselves in a vulnerable situation or place where you’re going to be looked down upon or further criticized…. Even if indirectly.

Lastly, I think a feeling that keeps most of us from reaching out is a sense of pride.  None of us wants to feel like we can’t provide for ourselves or our families.

So these feelings often prevent people from reaching out for help – from using the services that are available.

I can’t speak for all the social service agencies who are there to help. But I can say that I found in my experience that I was the one walking in with my “back up” or on the watch to become defensive.

The people at these places – even the government service agencies – were incredibly nice even in light of being overwhelmed by the community’s needs.

So I think for most it’s a trade off: the (falsely) anticipated embarrassment and judgment versus getting your needs met.  People make that decision often without any information, and in the face of the unknown won’t take the help that is available.

That was another reason why I wrote the book: to demystify the experience and if people are afraid to ask for help to at least let them know there are people who “get it” and really are there to help and see you as an individual – not as a burden.

 Waiting for Change is available for sale via paperback and Kindle formats.

Thanks for sharing with us, Dr. McCale!


I know the issue of food stamps is one my husband and I can personally relate to.  So I thought I'd share a little bit about my thoughts and experience too.

Even though they now give you (at least they do in PA) a credit card to pay for your groceries instead of those old stamp booklets that shouted to the world while standing in the check out line that you're one of "those" people, I still found having to tell the cashier I was paying by EBT to be very humiliating.

I was grateful to have the help when we needed it, yet I often had conflicting emotions about it.

My husband rationalized our need to accept help by reminding me (and himself) that in all of his 25+ working years he paid far more into the "system" than what we were currently taking out.  This was the first time either of us had ever needed to rely on state assistance for support.  Remembering that truth helped us not feel like absolute failures, but it was still a daily emotional battle.

Additionally, I think states really need to re-evaluate how they measure the dollar amount provided to a family for monthly food stamps.  I've heard in some cases the amount offered to a family is peanuts.  That was not the case for us.

For a family of four, we received far more than we needed in a month for food.  I think if it would have been open to purchasing other necessities such as toilet paper, laundry detergent, body wash, toothpaste, etc... the amount they supplied would have been perfect.  Perhaps they were treating my 3 yr old and then 6yr old as adults in their nourishment requirements, when in reality they often eat like little birds.

Had I chosen to, my husband and I could have had high quality steak for dinner 3 nights a week on the money they provided.  The reality is, for a family to truly survive there are other things they need besides just food.  Sure you can make your own laundry detergent for less money than buying it, but there are still supplies needed to do so.

One other odd thing in our mind was this.  Days after my husband was hired at his present job, he called the agency to let them know he was hired and they could shut off our benefits.  We didn't want to rely on state assistance any longer than absolutely necessary.  They refused to end our benefits until he provided a copy of his first pay check and even then they supplied us with another 30 days worth of benefit we didn't need.

Again, we appreciated the assistance but felt other families in greater need could have used that money.

Overall, I will agree with Dr. McCale in that the people at these agencies are very helpful and very nice.  They don't come across in a judging sort of way at all.  So yes, if you have the need, accept the help your state will provide.  I think many states also provide free medical care for children of families in these situations.   It's definitely worth a phone call to find out what assistance you and your family qualify for.

Do you have firsthand experience with a food bank or soup kitchen?   What about having to rely on food stamps?   We would love for you to share your experience with us in the comments below.


Join us back here again next Friday for Week 4:  Making Big Decisions After a Layoff





Get your copy of UnEMPLOYED Faith today for only $4.99.

In the book, I share the raw details of my story, while also offering 10 different tried and true coping tips for enduring your season of unemployment with strength and perseverance.

Also available for FREE download is this helpful resource:  Praying Him Through Unemployment:  6 Week Prayer Guide.