When We Don’t Know the Story {Food Pantries and Job Loss}

I’m waiting in line.  She doesn’t understand his heckling.  She is paying with food stamps, and the guy behind her has seen her panhandling at a busy intersection. I’ve seen her too.  She’s not buying anything “healthy,” but neither am I.  

“Oh, you make the big money over by the bridge,” he says.

“Not really,” she says. “We get by.”

“Get a job!” he replies – ever so sarcastically.

I can’t hear what she’s saying, but her head is bowed. I observe her a bit longer and wonder if she’s mentally ill.  Her lack of understanding and inability to engage with simple activities suggests she might be.

I know some of her money goes to alcohol.  An addiction no different than me buying chips when I am overweight.

The struggle in my heart and the judgement from the line is tangible.  There’s so much anger directed at her.  I want to ask them…do you really want her life? Begging on a corner? No family to speak of? No home?

And I know what they’ll say – something about their  -my – taxpayer dollars supporting her habits.  I get it. I really do. But, when I look at the angry mob behind the downtrodden woman, I can’t muster any vehemence.  I am just sad.

Because I think of a blog I read yesterday. It lurks in my head all day – all evening – this morning. The post centers on how we assume things about others – often wrongly.  I have a friend who calls it writing stories.

We write a story in our head about what we see.  We think we know because we’ve gathered “evidence” by observing. When in reality, we don’t know. At all.

When We Don't Know the

This line sticks with me: “There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

I wonder what her story is…


She comes to ask my class for help with a fundraising project.  One day, a few hours, raising money for about 15 local food pantries.  I look at my students.  I doubt any of them have visited a food pantry. It’s so far away from their experience.

She tells of a call she received recently.  A man requesting food for his family.  She asks his address so she can connect him with the closest food pantry; he gives an address in a nice neighborhood. Confused, she asks more questions. He has a good job. His wife has a degree and a better job.  They have two young children.

The American dream by anyone’s standard.  Nice home in a nice neighborhood. Degrees, jobs, kids.

But, his wife lost her job, and (long story) there is an issue with her unemployment benefits. They’ve eaten all the food in their home. Now, they’re behind on their mortgage and car payment and in a place where buying food isn’t possible.

The man chokes up as he asks for help. He doesn’t know the correct term for food stamps (it’s called SNAP in my state).  He’s donated at food pantries, but never used one.  One life change – a job loss – has taken them from American dream to food pantry.

And that could me – or you – too.  One “secure” job – lost.

The agency connects him to the nearest food pantry. His voice cracks as he asks if his kids must go with him. They do not. He’s relieved. He didn’t want them there.

And as I listen to this story, tears fill my eyes. I think of my friends – friends who bought gifts for my children on that first Christmas after my separation.  Who used miles to send me to Honduras. Who moved me twice. Who unpacked my kitchen and cleaned. Really, they’ve served me in too many ways to list. {And I am beyond grateful.}

But, one job loss. And before you say it, they followed the Dave Ramsey plan. No debt! Savings of three months salary. They did it RIGHT. But when no new job comes and months pass…the house must be sold. The cars too. Life changes dramatically. And it’s hard.  It’s their home  – their neighborhood. So much bigger than just “stuff.” It’s the life they built.

Without family and friends, they might need a food pantry someday too.

None of us are that far removed from need. Truly.

I share with my students how important this fundraiser is – how necessary the food pantries are – how they really aren’t immune to sudden changes in their parents jobs or this country’s economy.

After all….“There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

Why am I telling you this? I am not completely sure.  God began moving the words from my heart to the page, and I let Him.

All I do know is that…the next time someone with a Michael Kors purse is paying with food stamps, instead of allowing the anger to permeate your person, consider that perhaps she had wealth at one time, and because of job loss, she’s fallen on hard times.

Better yet, learn her story. Do for one what you wish you could do for many (Andy Stanley said that first:)

And, yes. I know this is a bigger, multifaceted issue than I present here. I watch the debates. I vote. I read newspapers online. But in this moment, I am removing all that to love one. To hear one.

Because, friends. Standing back in anger – complaining on Facebook – saying mean things to the person  – none of that looks like the Jesus of the Bible.

He walked up to the woman at the well. He called Zacchaeus down from the tree. He had dinner with the tax collectors.


Love. No one will know we are Christ followers by our love unless we love.

“There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”


  1. Mary Kay says:

    I love this, Sarah. I can’t tell you how close we have been to receiving from the food pantry, too. And we had always been on the giving side. Changes come but God’s love is constant!

    • Hi Mary Kay! It’s scary, huh? To think that someday you could be standing in line too. I like to think it will never happen to me, but I know better. And knowing his love is constant helps carries us too – thanks for the reminder:)

  2. Brittany says:

    Oh Sarah. So good & so real. So heartbreaking in the way that we hope to be broken.

  3. This speaks deeply to my heart. Taking it even further…I don’t think we can truly love someone till we know their story…until we’ve taken we’ve taken the time to shut our mouths and minds and decided to listen to people with hearts wide open.

    Love this…so grateful to find your blog! I’m a single mom too. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing this Shanda…I had never thought of it this way – but I think that’s so TRUE. Knowing a person’s story is knowing and loving them regardless. Thanks for that. And know my heart holds single moms very closely. I’ll add you to my prayers.

  4. So beautifully written Sarah. Such truth. Thank you for sharing.

  5. This is beautiful, Sarah!

    Thank you so much for the reminder and the challenge to remember we don’t know the story. It’s so easy to jump to conclusions, or to impose our own version of a story onto people, and you’re so right, it looks nothing like Jesus.

    Thank you.

  6. Hi Sarah! I came over from Hopewriters. This is beautiful. And true. I know what it’s like to write the stories in my head and to be the story others have assumed in their heads. You share such a humbling and critical message here and I thank you for it!

    • Hi Marian! I enjoyed your post as well – and thanks for visiting. Hope to talk more with you!

  7. Writing stories. Such a beautiful way to face the reality of life. Thank you for scaring thus with me. I pray for positive endings and knowing God’s love.

    • I think I watched you do this in the classroom. Rules but rules, but you always considered the student’s story. I learned much from your example. Thank you;)

  8. Angie Gatens says:

    I see this everyday with my students. Kids come to me and tell me their stories. Everyone has a “story” I decided when I started in my job as a school counselor that I am not the judge and jury as to why they need my help. I am just to help. Our community has went from an area of middle class to extreme poverty. Yes Poca always had poverty but not like this. I see parents who are on drugs, unemployment, disability,welfare and alcoholics. I hear the stories. Yes sometimes I’m not sure if they are truth but the way I feel is that their child who is also my child needs food, clothes or a cap and gown for graduation. Whatever it is we get it. Every year I do a “secret Santa” for our families. Many time high schoolers aren’t eligible for Christmas assistance through outside agencies due to their age. They are still kids. Every year I set a deadline and swear I am sticking to it!! It doesn’t work. I stress over getting them the help and every year it comes. Every year God gives the resources and these kids get a Christmas. Do I worry about of the parent pawns or sells the stuff. Yes I do but all I can do is give and pray. I don’t question and I don’t not give because of what I or others think. That’s not my job. When I say “I” I really mean my staff and community give. We coordinate with the other schools to make sure who is covered and who needs help. Some have told me of how the family doesn’t need it. I just smile. In reality I am not giving. They are giving to me. I have had parents cry and smile at the same time because they are overjoyed at the gifts and food. My school community is my calling. We are not to be the judge of whether they need it or not in my opinion. They come and we provide. No matter what they are spending their money on their children need food. Am I to deny that child food because their prent has not made good choices? What if our kindness is the only kindness that child has ever seen? What if we are the person who is making a difference in their life? We should never make a person feel less than who needs help. We are all only a paycheck away from being in the food pantry line. As a child my Mother was on welfare and she was going to nursing school. I can remember her asking me to run in the Poca Supermarket to get a loaf of bread with the food stamps. I said “no” because I was embarrassed and not going into the local store and risk others seeing me use the paper food stamps!! Because of my experience growing up I never want a child/student to feel embarrassed and not ask me for help. Sorry it was so long but as you can tell your post struck a cord!!

    • I am so glad you took time to reply…I appreciate it. I never knew you were a counselor! I can imagine that you do that so well:) and I love that your “job” is just not a job and they’re just not students…they’re people with families. They’re blessed to have you advocating for more than good grades. I also never would have guessed you were on food stamps in high school, but I love that you leverage what God taught you all those years ago to help others. I admire you, Angie. Keep up the good work. Poca- our world – is better for it. Much love.

  9. Sara I have had some bad feelings sitting at the table registering some one needing food from our pantry, and I ask what their address is, and in one instance, the person is from Forest Park and I think that is a really good neighborhood how can some one living there need food? well, the spouse left and didn’t give support and later a child took their life, and a grieving mother sat at the table in front of me needing help. We need to talk to those who ask for help and find out what is happening in their lives and give all the help, love and support we can, but for the grace of God there go I.

    • Angie Gatens says:

      Drema, you, Johnnie Pat and all the others at Poca Methodist have the most organized food pantry. I also know I can call Poca Methodist if I have a family in need and they will help. It takes a village. We all have those feelings. I know I do. For me when dealing with students I just remember it’s not about the parent and their choices but the child.

    • Thanks, Drema, for all you do for the community. I can’t imagine the crowns you have waiting:) I love that you take time to talk and love those who are hurting. The food bank is not just about handing out food; it’s about handing out love. Love you!

  10. I am one who was suddenly in need following a spouse who left, low employment, an unexpected infant health scare, etc., etc. Without the safety net of friends, SNAP, WIC and church, we would have remained in poverty. These supports propped me up until we could once again stand alone and help others. I carry grocery gift cards in my purse and give them to those who ask for help on the street corners. I donate the very best of our outgrown clothing to women who seem so grateful for the nice brands for their children. There is always so much more than what we see. I walked it, I’ve lived it. It changed me forever and I’m so grateful.

    • Missy…thanks so so much for your transparency here. It’s always so encouraging. And I LOVE this idea – to carry grocery cards. So grateful for your presence here.

Leave a Reply