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Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

From both sides of the fence

Melissa is pondering the gift of charity on Suburban Bliss. I've got a fairly unique perspective on the whole issue of charity as I've been in the position of the macher, the big giver in the past. But now I'm in the position of being the receiver of charity, charity without which our family could not survive. Before I get into all this, let me preface it with the facts. I am not on welfare, although I have been in the past. I don't get foodstamps, either. Unbelievably, I make too much money to get a government handout like food for our family. But the way the government looks at poverty in this country is another post or 3, and not appropriate here and now.

What we live on is SSDI, Social Security Disability Insurance. When I became disabled last year, I filed for SSDI in order to help with my volumes of bills and living expenses. Because I had worked hard for 21 years and had made a fine income well over 6 figures for the last years of my career, I get quite a decent amount of social security. In addition, both of my kids get a small check each month to pay for their support, especially since their father does not acknowledge their existance never mind send money. With our combined SSDI, we make a tad bit over the federal poverty guidelines, guidelines that do not take into account things like your geographic area or cost of living increases. They remain stagnant and have for many years.

Because I'm over the guidelines, I can't qualify for medicaid, subsidized housing, or foodstamps. I have no health insurance even though I'm sick enough to be permanently disabled. See any dichotomy here? Don't even get me started on this rant!

We do get some help. Jewish Family Services runs a Kosher food pantry and we get a monthly delivery of staple foods. Pasta, canned tomato sauce, rice, peanut butter, juice, raisins, etc. They have recently begun adding eggs, apples, and chicken. No goodies other than graham crackers. With this food, I can keep our monthly food bill below $300 but it's not easy and we do run out of food by the middle of the month. I stock up on staples that we all eat, cheese, yogurt, fruit, veggies. But it's not enough. My kids are hungry a lot of the time. Plus, this is exactly the diet that has put me into the prediabetic condition I'm in, and it's precisely what I should be eating. But I can't afford anything else.

Eastern MA has an agency chartered with helping pay heat bills. Every year I apply, every year I get turned down at least 3 times for bogus crap. Their standard operating procedure is to deny everyone and hope they disappear. One year I did just give up, but the last couple of years I've hung on to the bitter end. You file in September, if you're lucky they'll pay you sometime in July. That's how bad it is.

That's all the help we get. But during the holiday season, the Food pantry takes names and ages of the kids and asks what they want. My kids always ask for clothing because I can't afford to buy them most of the stuff they want. It's what they want, and what they need. But I want them to have more. I want them to have new games and stuff to play with. They need sports stuff, they need sleds, they need things for the outdoors. Those things are so far down on their list of wants, but it's what I want for them. That's why I put up a wish list of impossible items, so they might just get something fun after all.

Melissa is having issues with just buying the stuff the kid's ask for on her giving trees. She questions why a kid would ask for a pair of pajamas when they could ask for a toy. Of course, to me the pajamas make the most sense. The kid is cold when he goes to bed. His family probably doesn' t use much heat. He values being warm more than he does playing a game. I get that. To me, if a kid asks for a practical gift, it's what he needs, but isn't necessarily what he wants. We compare our kids with modern conveniences to those living in shelters, but that comparison isn't fair. You can't get a shelter kid a DVD because chances are, there won't be a place to play it, and even if there was, chances are even greater that it will be stolen. That's just the nature of institutions. She questions whether a pair of mittens is enough, but for a kid who has cold hands, they are more than enough. When kids have only a little, they don't ask for the moon. They understand the nature of poverty much more than you realize. My kids love to look at things we can't have, but they don't ask for them. I have to literally force them to go beyond simple things for a wish list.

One last thing that I mentioned in Melissa's comments is the rotten truth about some charities. Here in Boston, the Boston Globe newspaper sponsors a Globe Santa program. People send in money from all over the place, from small to very large amounts. They raise huge sums of money every year for this program, and yet what they mail out to the families is complete junk. I know that sounds like I'm a spoiled brat, but last year was only one of several examples I can give. We had our social worker certify that we were needy and applied for the Globe Santa program. When our package came, inside it was 1 broken calculator, and 1 extremely soiled stuffed animal. That was it. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not giving my kid a broken calculator nor an I giving a dirty stuffed animal. They went into the garbage. This was the 3rd experience with this program, and our last. I'd like to know where that money is going to, that they buy crap from the dollar store and make people feel like they're giving something spectacular to the poor.

I don't like being poor. I don't like having to ask for gifts for my kids. I have no family that sends presents, so it's all on me, and I'm just not able to afford presents. Food comes first. That's obvious, right?
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14 Comments:

Anonymous AmyinMotown said...

Honest question: If you are too poor to afford Christmas "extras" for your kids, how do you afford Internet access? Honestly, not trying to be bitchy or trolly, and I think it's good to have a voice in the blogosphere that's not super affluent. Library? Friend? School? In the category of "nonessential but saves my sanity?"

5/12/05 2:53 PM  
Blogger Happy Mama to Three said...

Marg,
I know that Amy's question was asked of you, but having spent a few years walking in your shoes I am going to give what my answer would be.

Amy, when it comes to internet access it cost me about $20 a month when I had very little. But that $20 was the world to me. It meant games, entertainment, music, movies, chat, friends, email, etc. etc. etc. all for the bargain price of $5 a week. I couldn't go to the movies, or out to dinner, but at least I wasn't cut off from the whole world.

So that's my answer. Maybe it helps to understand.

C, who remembers.

5/12/05 4:23 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

My internet access is less than $10 a month, as it it's any of your business. I have internet access because I do not have long distance on my phone, and this is the only way I can get in touch with my friends overseas or long distances away. Additionally, I have kids in secondary school and they need internet access at home for research and homework. All communication between the schools and home is done by internet. If we didn't have i'net access, I wouldn't know what homework my kids have, or when activities at school occur.

I love that in this day and age, people assume that internet access isn't a necessity. It is if you plan to have kids educated in schools. This is a necessity just like the phone is, but it doesn't mean that I have to buy the most expensive package. I don't have cable or a cell phone or tivo or anything extra at all. I don't even have a car on the road.

I think asking a person a question like this is outstandingly rude, however.

5/12/05 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally get why it's an insulting question, and at the same time I can see that Amy probably didn't mean for it to sound so insensitive...maybe it was a "just curious" kind of question, because based on your post, you are thoughtful and intelligent enough to spent your money wisely. Sometimes it's hard to ask a question without it sounding loaded with unintentional judgement. Maybe?

j.

5/12/05 4:54 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

I am so happy I found you :) I liked your comment on Suburban Bliss and decided to come on over and check you out. Thanks for having me.

I am a single mom with two young boys. I want to thank you for being so honest about your struggles. Although my situation is not exactly the same as yours, I can identify in a lot of ways.

I have a very fixed budget myself, however the internet is my sanity!! It's how I keep in touch with friends across the country, it's a resource of information for myself and for my children and school projects, it is also my complete and utter sanity. I can not even imagine if I was disabled and not able to have much contact with the outside world. The internet is a necessity to some people most definitely.

I look forward to reading more from you...

Take Care :)

5/12/05 5:08 PM  
Anonymous AmyinMotown said...

Thanks, C. I think that's what I meant when I said "it saves my sanity..." I have a hell of a time affording mine, but I know I'd give up lots of things before I would give up my connection to the world, for all the reasons you mentioned. Most bloggers do seem to be quite well off and I like the idea of someone who is struggling adding their voice to the discussion.

5/12/05 5:46 PM  
Anonymous TeriLynn said...

Hi Margalit-

I found your blog through Melissa's site (she's my sister) and I just wanted to let you know that your post touched me. I work at Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit, and sometimes (i hate to say it) it's hard to remember what the clients go through when I have my own problems (monetary & otherwise), and it's hard not to get irritated with their persistence. But on the other hand, having dealt with other agencies through this job, I see how persistence is a VERY necessary skill to get the help you need. It's also difficult to see how our resources are stretched (our food vouchers are low-to-gone by the middle of the month, and gas vouchers are gone before you can even count them.) and how many more people need help. Our main office is now in a very affluent area, and still we are inundated by people who've lost their jobs and have huge houses but can't afford to feed their children. It's hard but we do try to help the families stay in their own homes & try to keep a normal life as much as possible. Unfortunately, donations are down (I myself donated more than I could afford to Katrina relief and it looks like the rest of the donating public did the same...) and the cost of living is rising while more and more people are getting laid off...

I didn't mean for this to be rambling and bleak!

My office has been piloting a new program that has some federal as well as state funding, called Project Chessed. We've gathered doctors, dentists, etc. from the Jewish community who are willing to donate some free services to our Jewish clients who have no health insurance. The program has been working very well for the year or so that we've been running it, so all hopes are aiming for more widespread programs of this sort. Hopefully, it can spread to the Boston area. We also have a program that helps with medication- a lot of pharmaceutical companies will subsidize your meds if you fall below a certain income & have no insurance. I don't know if this is a concern for you, but it would be a good thing to look into online at the drug companies' websites if it is. We have volunteers who fill out the paperwork for our clients who can't quite figure it out (mostly the elderly) but I think it wouldn't be too hard for you to do. You sound pretty smart! ;)

I'm sorry this is so long, but I just couldn't resist. When we were growing up, after my dad left things were very tight for us as well. I remember the days of having only one meal a day because there was no more food, and trying to stay at friends' houses because I knew there was more to eat there. I hope & pray things work better for you in the upcoming year. I'd also like to find your children's father & kick him in the balls. Because he's clearly earned it!

-TeriLynn (@mail.com)

5/12/05 5:57 PM  
Blogger nita said...

hey darlin'

your wish list link isn't working. i'd like it to be working. i can't do much, but i can and will do for the kids. it's all about the kids.

your points are brilliant. terilynn has a great idea that i'd be willing to bet you could bring to boston....

this time of year makes me feel like i don't have all my skin...

6/12/05 3:03 AM  
Blogger jennifer starfall said...

can i kick absent-dad in the balls, too? pretty pretty please?

thank god that when my parents split my dad didn't disappear. i feel for ya, though. we were pretty bad off for a few years when i was in middle school, but not now.

fix the wish list link, please.

6/12/05 1:46 PM  
Blogger Celena said...

I just have to say that I totally admire you and your family. After reading this and seeing how tough you guys have it right now, I can't help but look back a few entries and see just how much love you guys have for eachother (Monopoly and Xbox posts). I was a poor kid, and lived through most of the same hardships your kids are, but I'll tell you, there sure wasn't much love in OUR family. So good on ya, for being a good mom, and keep it up!

6/12/05 2:00 PM  
Blogger Debby said...

I too receive SSDI for myself and my son. Thankfully for all the years I worked my position was quite well-paid, but my prescriptions are quite expensive. Medicaid does cover some of them per month, but I do have to pay $250 towards them, which is quite a bit out of my monthly check. Thankfully, the first of the year they are starting the Medicare prescription program which should help with that burden. When it comes to Christmas, I don't buy for my grown children, but it breaks my heart not to be able to buy for my grandchildren, so I know exactly how you feel hon. My thoughts and prayers are with you, this time of the year, and every other day. I know how it feels to go hungry. I do it much of the time myself, but then I remember that at least I can keep a roof over my head, and many others can't, so I count that blessing.

6/12/05 2:21 PM  
Blogger Belinda said...

Oh, M--if only you could move here! It's so cheap! But you might not have access to the tools you need for the kids' educational needs, I don't know about that.

Sorry if this has been covered before, or is touchy, but why hasn't "Dad" been pursued legally? (Or maybe he has--sorry if so.) It doesn't matter whether HE acknowledges them or not, does it?

At our "gift trees", we usually assume that the parents guide the requests, so we try to add some "fun" stuff. It's so sad to see a card needing baby shoes. Just one pair of baby shoes.

7/12/05 1:01 AM  
Blogger Belinda said...

Hey--just checked out your list--plenty of nice, affordable things on there people could pick up for you. A heads-up for shoppers...MUCH of the stuff on Margalit's list, especially trendy stuff like "Juicy" items can be had brand-new on Ebay if you get searching now!!

7/12/05 1:10 AM  
Blogger nita said...

hey! i still can't see the list. help!

7/12/05 5:29 PM  

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