I'm shocked that so many military families are standing in line at the food pantry because they really need help.
My husband’s an E4 Petty Officer on a warship. When he joined the Navy, I didn’t think it was going to be all sunsets and roses, but I didn’t expect that we’d have to eat ramen seven nights a week because that’s what we could afford. We thought being in the military might be a way out of living from paycheck to paycheck, but you know, a full-time clerk at Taco Bell makes more than my husband. It’s frustrating that he risks his life to keep us safe from terrorism, misses holidays and birthdays, but doesn’t get paid enough to feed the family the way he’d like with healthy, fresh food.
When we found out my husband was being transferred to San Diego we thought for sure he’d get a cost of living allowance on top of his paycheck. They’re given in Hawaii and other expensive places, so we thought we’d definitely get it here. But there is no COLA for San Diego so that makes living here really hard. We’re not alone.
I’m shocked that so many military families are standing in line at the food pantry because they really need help. Many of us struggle for months before finding out that there are services for us, and then it’s pretty much word of mouth. I don’t know a whole lot about FSSA, but I looked into food stamps and it seemed like we made $100 a month too much. Food stamps considers our housing allowance as income, even though we don’t see a penny of it, but my daughter qualifies for free breakfast and lunch at school because our income is so low. I understand how base pay, hazard pay, and family separation pay should be considered income, but not the housing allowance. If that were changed, it would help families like us tremendously because then we’d qualify for food stamps and I could feed my family healthier food instead of food from a box.
My husband’s base pay is so low that we are barely getting by. We have to juggle our finances. We’ve given up cable and going to the movies. The first place I cut is food because the consequences are too great if I don’t pay the car insurance or have gas money so my husband can get to work. I try to put away $50 a month for emergencies. I go to the food pantry because every bit helps. Some people would say it’s wrong to use the food pantry if I can save something, but if I was forced to choose, I’d rather put that little bit into savings, as opposed to using it to buy a small bag of extra groceries, so we’d have money if we need to visit a sick parent or something.
I was so embarrassed at first to go the food pantry because I grew up with everything I needed. But I’d rather be embarrassed and be able to feed my family at least one extra meal a week and buy a bit of fresh food. It’s nice to be able to have my daughter say, “I’d like a snack” and be able to give her an apple instead of chips, because when she eats healthy, she isn’t lethargic. It makes me so sad that my daughter is six and I have to tell her “no” sometimes. But on the other hand, I would rather grow up understanding that things costs money.
I looked for a job, but it wasn’t worth it. We’d be negative $400 or $500 a month after paying for daycare and what would I do when my husband is deployed? My daughter needs one parent around if she gets sick or needs help with school. Like all military kids, she already gives up a lot.
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Joe Gaston, age 45, is a disabled veteran living in Bozeman, Montana with his wife and two children.Read story