Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Adjusting to the Stipend

“MY son on FOOD STAMPS?!”, my mother exclaimed over the phone as I presented the latest in my string of crazy ideas for how I would spend the rest of 2009. I was walking through the produce section and had just picked up two of my favorites from the deli, brie and prosciutto. “I thought you were going to Japan? And three weeks ago you were sure you were going to join the Peace Corps! What is this City-whatever?” I then proceeded to give her what I would later find out is called an ‘elevator speech’ and what I would also later realize was a rather incomplete one. I would be helping out in inner-city schools and experiencing a new modest way of living. I would be living my dream and making an impact. I told her about the benefits; they gave us health insurance, metro cards, uniforms, cell phones and an education award. Everything was fine up until the point where I explained the $200 a week stipend at CYDC. “Andrés! You know you can’t live off of that, you know you have those expensive tastes. Say goodbye to those shrimp cocktails!” That was when I dropped the “food stamps” bomb, and explained that not only was I leaving a salaried position in the middle of a recession to volunteer in an unknown city, but that the government would be financing my meager food intake. In retrospect, she took it relatively well. .

As I stood in that crowded room in a unknown neighborhood, I wondered to myself how this process would be different if people in power ever had to wait in line at the food stamp office. One of my friends and corps members had been the first person in line that morning at 6:30AM. By the time I got in at 9:00am, she had still not been called and so I settled in for a long wait. If I had not been nice to the front desk attendant (which is a rarity in that office), I doubt I would have even been called that day. Around 2:00PM, I got up to put on my jacket because I was feeling cold and she thought I had given up and was on my way out. Suddenly my paperwork was expedited and within half an hour I had seen a caseworker and was walking in the rain back to service. I was approved! It wasn’t until the next week that I had some free time in the morning to go pick up my fancy D.C. food stamps card. This part of the process was quick and streamlined. I chose and entered a PIN and was on my way in 20 minutes flat.

Despite my mother’s lack of faith in me tamping down on my obsession with European delicacies, living off the $200 a month the government has allotted for my sustenance has been rather manageable. I’m learning to buy things on sale and to buy meat in bulk. The excitement of living in this city and embarking on this adventure has made it easy to cook every night, prepare little freezer goody bags and have stacks of Tupperware lunches in the fridge ready to go. I’ll get the occasional strange look from a cashier, especially ones not used to working with this payment form or if they catch a glimpse of my iPhone. Apparently not many people use their card to buy organic strawberries and wild salmon. Oh well, I’m still working on it and I’m glad to change my ways in the name of service!

No comments:

Post a Comment