Hunger Awareness Month: One man’s story shows who is on food stamps

Not just a number
When Gary (not his real name) came to our office he was clearly having a hard time. The man had a sad story to tell, and as we helped him with his application for food stamps, he told it to us.

He was ashamed and humiliated, in disbelief that he was joining the ranks of those who need government assistance. To try to buck up his spirits we told him that the average food stamp recipient uses the benefit for only 9 months – until they’re back on their feet.

He looked like we’d said “9 years.” Fighting back tears, he said “I hope it doesn’t take me that long.”

I’m 54 years old and the past few years have been rough.

Before I moved to Pittsburgh I was mainly living in Boston. I worked in the music business my whole life.

Things were kind of drying up so I moved back to Worcester (Massachusetts) where I grew up to be a writer for a weekly paper there. It only paid $26,000 but it was a real job.

But the paper closed last May, and since then I’ve been struggling. I came to Pittsburgh because a friend told me a record label out here knew of me and was interested in me. They offered me a job.

They met with me three times. I took the job and moved here, but they basically misled me. They paid me less money than they promised and wanted me doing all kinds of illegal things – piracy, running scams, really criminal activity.

So I kept butting heads with them. I moved here February 15 and they fired me March 28.

They wouldn’t pay me unemployment because I hadn’t worked there long enough. I called the Pennsylvania Board of Labor but because it’s an at-will state, I don’t have any legal standing.

So now I’m struggling. I found a commission-based job making $8/hr. Sometimes I make so little the guy just pays me in cash. I’m not even going to make $200 a week. I’ve got 48 cents in my bank account.

I’m renting a place for $625 and I’m way behind on rent. I signed up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but now I can’t even pay for that.

I’m running out of options and I’m all alone. I have a brother who’s a multi-millionaire, but do you think he’d help me? No.

I was so ashamed to come in to Just Harvest today. My friends kept urging me to come but I waited as long as I could.

I’ve never had to ask for help in my life. I’m not looking for long-term handouts, just something to get me through the next few months.

I have two cats and they’re the only things that are keeping me going.

This is not how I envisioned my move to Pittsburgh.”

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