Friday, October 19, 2007

Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Yesterday I stood in line for two hours for free food.

It wasn't a food shelf, though. Because we live in a very poor area, our area employers sponser a truckload of surplus food to come into the community and then they give it all away. They advertise it in the paper for anyone who wants/needs extra food. You don't have to qualify, you could be a millionaire and still get the food. Usually it's cereal, day-old bread, box mixes and some canned goods. I've gone several times. In the past, I've stood in line for two hours and walked out with about $80-$100 worth of food and other goods. The last time I went there was a 10lb bag of frozen french fries which, when cooked, turned out to be the most tasty fries I have ever made. I made the french fries with the frozen chicken patties they sent home with me, and, viola! (tee hee) a free meal!!! I do know that someone pays for it, but to me directly, there is no cost except the time I spend standing in line.

This time, though, here's what I got: 6 20-oz bottles of Diet Coke, 3 boxes generic stuffing mix, 2 boxes Triscuits, 1 box cereal, and a box of macaroni and cheese mix. And I was happy to get it. After all, free is free, right? I am pinching pennies at home, and it will get eaten, for sure. But I was surprised. It was so much less than last time, or the time before. Sometimes we would get chicken leg quarters or generic lunch meat or cans of spaghettios, but mostly I remember that the last time I went (last month), I brought two laundry baskets, they filled them full, and then I needed an extra box, too. This time I only needed half of one laundry basket.

I know the price of food is going up, and that is what I told myself. Kind of scary, though, for sure, because that free food does really help stretch our food budget. But then I read this article called "Poor Stretching Paychecks to Breaking Point" on CNN, and it became clear that it's not just my truck full of free food that's coming up emptier, it's the food shelves, the energy assistance programs, and the people themselves that are coming up empty. I know that since DH hasn't been working, we've been straddling the border between lower class and middle class. And I don't have many luxuries. We have the cheapest satellite TV you can possibly get, because we don't get reception otherwise. I could probably live without the TV--we didn't have a TV for the first 2 years we lived here, but when 9/11 came around, I really wished I had a TV, so I've kept up the cheap satellite service ever since. I've got a cheap cell phone plan because of my long (90-mile one way) commute and DH's mental illness (when he's having a crisis, sometimes it's imperative that he be able to contact someone or that I be able to contact him). We have a pretty cheap (by most peoples' standards) mortgage with a fixed rate. We get eggs from our chickens. I grow some of our own food. I keep a price book. I stock up when things are on sale and I can afford to. It's not like we're taking big vacations or eating out all the time (although DH does like to do this a lot, since I have no idea where he gets his money to do so, I don't count it in our family budget). It's tough out there, folks. And from the sounds of it, it's only going to get tougher. What about the families that waited in line with me for 2 hours who really really couldn't do without that food? Who've incorporated it into their food budget because their rent went up? How long are two boxes of Triscuits going to do it??? Mark my words, I think we're all in for a rude awakening!!!