“I hate begging”
Tuesday, May 15, I arrived at the Olivet Mission in Cedar Rapids for a scheduled Outreach Event. I got set up in a daycare classroom, where I would meet with potential clients, and in walked a middle-aged man. Before I could even greet him, tears started to fill his eyes. He stopped in the middle of the room and said, “I can’t believe I’m…I hate begging.” I tried to assure him he wasn’t begging as he took a deep breath and sat down with me.
As we worked through the application together I had an opportunity to get to know Ryan*. He shared that he had been a construction worker his whole life and recently fell out of work. He could barely afford rent and was struggling to provide for his two children. Throughout the 10-15 minutes it takes to complete an application, Ryan paused three or four times to look out the window. Each time he looked out to watch cars go by he would tap his fingers on the desk and repeat, “I hate begging.”
As I tried to assure Ryan he wasn’t begging it occurred to me he was begging but it wasn’t for food assistance. He was begging to be treated as a human. Ryan was begging to be recognized as a man who worked hard and wasn’t giving up. Ryan was begging to be treated with kindness. He was begging for someone to understand. I wondered how many times people in our state are forced to “beg” for a basic need – food? Ryan made me wonder how many people can’t bring themselves to ask for help because they’re too afraid of the scars begging will leave them or the judgment they’ll face from someone who could help them.
Ryan taught me something important today –I don’t think he hated begging. Ryan hated the shame and embarrassment. He hated that another person would think he was a beggar. Why is it ok for a child to beg for a toy or an employee to beg for vacation time or a raise? Why is it ok to beg your spouse for a new car or to beg your friend to join you for dinner even when they’re tired? I beg all the time in life. I beg without shame or fear of judgment.
I live, beg, eat, work and play without shame or fear because I’m lucky. I’m lucky I have a job. I’m lucky I can provide for myself. Many might say to this, “That’s not luck, you worked hard.” Well, I appreciate that, but the truth is most of the people utilizing SNAP work hard. The number of people utilizing SNAP who have advanced degrees has increased 236% since 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s over 293,000 people who were offered the opportunity for an education, people who worked hard, and still can’t meet all their food needs.
There are over 400,000 hungry people in Iowa. Let’s not make them beg for food or for dignity. Take action today. Volunteer at your community’s food pantry, reach out to your Food Bank and ask how you can help, or contact the Iowa Food Bank Association and volunteer to help with SNAP Outreach. If you do only one thing, remember, the next time someone is “begging,” they need to be treated with humanity and reminded they are more than someone in need. They are a person.
*Name has been changed to protect the client’s identity.