Just For The Poor Kids

lined-up-lunchesImage via Shutterstock

Mothers and children stand in a line, waiting their turn at the window to turn in their papers.  The paperwork isn’t for anything fun, it’s not for anything they want to be a part of , but it’s something they have found they need to be a part of.

Mothers occupy themselves on their phones, feeling slightly embarrassed to be in this line while using their smart phone, but the truth is the phone is not the latest model, and they got it for free with their latest upgrade.  As a mother of three children, having a phone so they can reach her isn’t just a priority, it’s a necessity.  She stares at the screen of her phone desperately trying to avoid being drawn into a conversation with anyone, trying to pretend she is anywhere but here.

The kids, on the other hand, stand as if they are awaiting the firing squad.  Heads down.  Eyes averted.  Trying to make themselves as small as they possibly can.  Hoping and praying they don’t see anyone they know, and more importantly that no one they know sees them.  A few hours ago they were happily playing a video game, and now they find themselves here standing in the line no one wants to be in.

The line they’re standing in is for free lunches when the school year starts, and a voucher to get a school uniform for free.  Just one uniform, so if mom doesn’t scrap together some cash quick they’ll be wearing that exact same uniform every day of the school year.

As if this experience wasn’t already humiliating enough, mom overhears one of the school administrators answering a parent’s question:

“What’s that booth for?” asks a random parent who is there navigating the confusion that is freshman registration at high school.

“Oh, you don’t need that booth, that’s just for the poor kids,” answers the school secretary.

Mom feels her face begin to burn and her eyes start to water, “Dammit I will not cry while I’m registering my kid for school”, she thinks to herself while steeling her resolve to stand firmly in the line.

The kids all heard it too, that innocent comment from the school secretary describing them as “the poor kids” of the school.  That’s a label they’ll carry with them all through the school year, even if their circumstances change.

They didn’t realize they were poor, they thought they just didn’t have a lot of money, but now they know they’re the poor kids.

The school secretary has no idea she has caused such a pain for these people, she said it without thinking.  She didn’t mean anything by it, it’s just how she thinks of them.  They are the poor kids.

She would never say, that door is just for the crippled kids.

She would never say, that entrance is just for the stupid kids.

She would never say, that hallway is just for the lazy kids.

Those things would be too politically incorrect.

We are living in a world where the way we build ourselves up, is to tear someone else down.  We are living in a world where it is not okay to allow our children to bully one another, but it is still acceptable for parents and other adults to tear each other down for not fitting in, for not meeting a standard society has set for them.

We don’t stop to think why these kids are in need of a free uniform voucher, or a free lunch ticket.  We just think the parents are failures for not being better financial providers.  “They should have stayed in school,” we think.  “They should get a damn job,” we think.

We don’t want to think about the sequence of events that have brought them to where they are, because if that sequence of events could happen to them it could happen to us, too.  We could one day find ourselves in the poor kids’ line.  Maybe there was an unexpected job loss, or an unforeseen health situation that impacted finances.  Maybe their happily ever after, didn’t quite work out and now mom finds herself providing for the kids on her own income, when she thought she would be a stay at home mom instead.  We don’t want to think about any of that, we just want to think about how we’re so much better than the kids and parents who have to stand in the poor kids’ line.

During the school year, the other students will have absolutely no way of knowing who is eating lunch for free, or who is wearing a free uniform because we’ve taken pains to remove any possibility of kids bullying one another from the classroom.  Their lunch money is on a card, the same as everyone else’s is, and they’ll swipe it at the register just like everyone else will.  Their shirt and pants will come from the exact same store as everyone else’s does.  Because we don’t want them to stand out, we don’t want them to be picked on or bullied, we want our kids to be safe from those experiences.

And yet, we can’t seem to stop adults from doing it.  Where do we think the kids are learning how to bully? How to pick on someone just for being different than they are?

Why can’t we seem to figure out that different, in whatever form it comes, doesn’t necessarily mean bad?  Why can’t we seem to figure out how to keep parents from bullying one another?

Why can’t we seem to figure out how to stop judging one another, and start helping one another?!

Can we?

* * * 

Speaking of the poor kids… Scary Mommy Nation’s Thanksgiving Project will be here before we know it. Have or know of a business who’d like to be involved? Find out how to help here! 


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  1. 2

    Deb Hill says

    You definitely touched a nerve with this commentary. My daughter knows we get help and she has to wait for things, but she doesn’t really associate us to being poor. A year ago we were not in this position and one day our world came crashing down.One day… that’s all it took. We are still trying to recover. Anyone anywhere can have the same happen to them in a heartbeat.

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    • 3


      It can absolutely happen to anyone! I remember hearing a statistic from back before the housing market crashed that the average American is two paychecks away from being homeless, two missed paychecks and it starts the snowball effect. We can all be there in the blink of an eye, and I think that’s what scares people!

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    • 4

      Courtney says

      Oh, most definitely, it can happen to anyone at any time. A little more than a year ago, we were smooth sailing. My husband lost a big client and it all crumbled. We’re just now catching up. We’re still not quite where we were, either.

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      • 5

        KK says

        We’re in a tough spot with the DH being in college and my income being the only one we have. Last month we had $50 for groceries. Couponing and price-matching only go so far. If the baby were still on formula (thank goodness he’s on regular milk and food now), the DH and I would’ve been eating ramen noodles for every meal.

        Times are tough. The judgement makes it worse. I may be the only source of income, but that’s so my hubby can pull a 95% GPA in law school. Hopefully, he’ll put it to good use some day.

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  2. 6

    Tabatha says

    This post is SO important. We say things off-handedly ALL the time, never thinking about what our kids are hearing. It’s something we *don’t* think about; and that’s part of the problem. A friend mentioned yesterday that something happened, totally a ‘nothing’ event to her and her children, but 24 hours later, there was a mom having her child apologize to my friend and her kids. While it might not have been a big thing to my friend, the other mom used it as a learning experience. We all need to think a little more like that. <3

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  3. 10


    This is very well written. It made me cry because my husband works his tail off but insurance premiums are so high even through his job the amount of money he makes is no where near what he brings home. We have to get assistance and I have been where this lady is as a kid. I hated being teased for my payless shoes and wearing the same clothes over and over again. People are just aweful sometimes. They truly r

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  4. 11

    Megan says

    I’m THAT mom and my kids are those poor kids. I also wear Prada sunglasses that I was gifted at my $10 per hour job selling sunglasses to make enough money for food. I have the latest model phone that came with my upgrade of my phone contract. What you don’t see is that we visit the food pantry monthly because we are $52 over the limit for food stamps. We live in a rough area with drugs and stabbings and I share a bedroom with my 6 year old. My mattress is older than I am and im grateful for it even though it hurts my back. Yesterday I had to beg help to get my lights turned back on again. I try to avoid driving because the squealing of my brakes is embarrassing and I get anxiety looking at that check engine light with my girls in the car. I used to be a stay at home mom. I used to do play groups and volunteer at my kids’ schools. Now I’ll settle for affording to pay all my bills in the same month and not panic when my phone rings that its another bill collector.

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  5. 13

    Catrina says

    I just love this post! We have been here. In fact we have been a recipient of the Thanksgiving project and not ashamed to say thank you for the help! Not sure where we would have been without the help! We can all use an extra help and there nothing wrong with that! What is wrong is the people that look down on those who are brave enough to ask! <3

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    • 15


      I dont know what the Thanksgiving project is but I am always looking for help in the holiday season. I am a single disabled mom of the most wonderful 9 year old who is becoming very aware of our financial situation now. I try to get her what she wants but she knows not to ask for much because I have trouble paying for what we need and she hears the messages from the collectors.

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  6. 18

    Cassie says

    Not only is this important because we need to be more aware. People in this position need to know we are not alone. We didn’t choose this for ourselves and certainly not for our children. I would do anything for this to not be their way of life

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  7. 20

    Elizabeth says

    As one of “those” Moms I have to say that this is spot on. What hurts more than anything is the feeling that I have to apologize to strangers for my status. I’m struggling to run a business and working a job on the side, a single Mom after my ex-husband hit the road several years ago and never looked back. He somehow wiggled his way out of paying child support, so it’s all on me.

    I see people bashing anyone of welfare, foodstamps, or government assistance on Facebook all the time. I don’t tell my friends that I get foodstamps, I don’t tell anyone, because of this label attached to them. It’s thought that the smartphone I have should be a flip phone, I shouldn’t have one at all, even though I got it free with an upgrade and rely on it for both business and to make sure I can be reached while my child is in school. I hear complaints about people with tattoos… if they can afford a tattoo, why can’t they afford food? There’s no thought that maybe the tattoo happened before the money struggles. There’s no thought at all. And anyone on foodstamps can’t possibly be working. It’s such a shameful thing, accepting help, it’s almost as if the general public would rather the children go hungry, go without insurance, without hope. Because then it would be socially acceptable. Never mind that any other kind of group receiving assistance is heroic. Disabilities are praised. Working hard to support your family is frowned upon? I just don’t understand.

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    • 22

      Mary says

      ((hugs)) hang in there, Mama. I’m the bitch on Facebook- I call people out on their bs. Tax fraud costs the US enough to pay for the SNAP program 10x over- so if someone posts one of those assistance-shaming bs memes, I ask them if they paid their full share of taxes this season. You’d be amazed at how many people are looking down their noses, while turning around and cheating the system!

      I refuse to be ashamed of accepting the help we need. I know I did the right thing by staying at home with my kiddos for 12 years, even though it’s put me in a bad place career-wise, now that my ex took a hike.

      I would strongly recommend going back to court for child support, if you haven’t already. There’s assistance available with that, depending on your state. Even if he’s left the state (as mine has), there are programs which will deduct the support directly from his taxes and/or wages. Even if you don’t end up collecting, being able to prove you’re not receiving support is sometimes enough to help with assistance- I filed recently, and when I was able to prove I’m not getting any help, our assistance doubled- and now I’m able to feed my kids without relying on mac-n-cheese dinners 3 nights a week.

      I’m building a freelance business, and for over a year now I’ve been at a level where it wouldn’t be sensible for me to take a job at minimum wage, because I can make more freelancing. Trouble is, I’m still building my business, so I’m not *quite* to the level of success where I won’t need help, yet. Hoping to get there within another year or so, but until then, I’m doing the best I can for my kids, and that’s all that matters to me. I really don’t give a flying rat’s tail what anyone thinks of me, as long as my kids understand how to work hard and how to make good lives for themselves and their families.

      Take care of you, Mama. You’re doing a great job! <3

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  8. 25


    I was one of the poor kids in the 80’s and I remember how ashamed I was. We went from my dad having a job that afforded us the ability to build a home by the lake and own several cars, to being the kids on free lunch. Back then they had colored tickets. Red, was regular, blue was reduced, and yellow was free. Everyone knew who was poor just by the color of your ticket. Thank goodness things seem to be changing a little. It breaks my heart to think of kids feeling ashamed over things they have no control over.

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  9. 26

    sara says

    We live in hard times where jobs are hard to come by.many jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet and it’s harder to get assistance. Someone doesn’t have enough to pay all their bills but yet make too much for food stamps, and now have to buy medical insurance on top of it. I’m not in that situation by gods good graces, but I have been there. People need to stop judging by how much money a person makes. Money does not make the person….

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    • 27


      I know so many friends who have gone back to work after being unemployed only to find out that they actually end up with less money in their pocket than they had sitting at home collecting benefits. The same job you had a few years ago may now pay you drastically less than it used to!

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      • 28

        Mary says

        Exactly!!! That’s the most frustrating thing about working- if I make “too much”, I lose the food stamps that keep us afloat! It wouldn’t be bad if I could just lose what I earn over- if I make $50 too much, fine, cut $50 off the assistance- but don’t cut the whole $300! :(

        The system could use some common-sense overhauls.

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  10. 29

    Lisa says

    My kids are “the poor kids” my husband is self employed but it is seasonal. He goes the whole winter not working. He busts his ass in the summer so that we have enough money to get thru the winter. He is great with the money so wbe get thru every year. I am a sahm and I work part time during the school year. But we qualify for free lunches every year. This also let’s us qualify for free college testing and gets the sports activity fee waived. The school charges $100 per student per sport to play. If we didn’t have the waiver my kids wouldn’t play.
    I had such a bad experience this year with a team parent who was putting together a preseason team but needed to be paid right away. I didn’t have the money right then and I knew the people in charge would reduce the rate so my girls would pay. But this parent was relentless in asking me for the money and bringing it up in front of other parents so everyone could hear me say that I don’t have the money. He then sent an email out letting everyone know that I hadn’t paid yet. Then he sent an email to the people in charge saying that ” I wasn’t working as much as I should” so I didn’t have the money and shouldn’t let my girls play. They ripped him apart!!!!! My girls played and I was able to have the money when the games started.

    But some adults don’t get it and are assholes!

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    • 32


      The way the whole registration process works at this high school is there are stations or booths set up all around the perimeter of the cafeteria, you stop at the first station and get their schedule, second station does ID’s, etc. So there are several lines around the room, but everyone knows what this one line is for and they’re told to skip it if they’re not one of the poor kids.

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  11. 33


    My childrens’ school has every family fill out the free/reduced lunch paperwork. You fill out your info and if you don’t qualify, you mark a box stating so and don’t complete the rest of the form. There’s no way for anybody outside of the office staff to know which families have filled out the complete form.

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  12. 34


    A thousand times yes. I know that I got free lunches in elementary school for a couple of years after my parent’s divorce. And when my son was born, both of us had lost jobs and the economy had just tanked. We had healthcare and food stamps. But I never told anyone. Because I knew how harshly we would be judged in our upper middle class neighborhood. My mother helped us pay the mortgage so we didn’t lose our house. She paid utilities. She sold the house that she rented so we could use that money to live off of. We wouldn’t have made it without her, or the assistance. We are back on our feet now, both working, but still in debt, and it’s a struggle. We fall into that too much money to qualify, but not enough to get ahead category. It’s frustrating. And unless you’ve been there, or are there too, you just can’t understand.

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  13. 35

    Alicia says

    I am in the “poor line” for the first time this year. My husband was in a very bad auto accident and is not able to go back to work yet, so we are trying to live on only my income (it’s not easy). My children just received school clothes and supplies yesterday that their school resource center purchased for them. We will overcome and so can you!!!

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  14. 37


    It is such a sad thing that POOR is a four letter word in our country. I work at a district in which 3/4 of students receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch. For some this is their main source of food daily. The lunch program is so beneficial. I’m sorry that the staff was so ignorant and thoughtless in her wording. As parents now we have the ability to shape our kids perspective. My child told me that she wished we could qualify for the free lunch like her friends so she could eat the hot lunch more often! LOL I have hope in our children.

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  15. 38

    Sarah says

    I agree so much with what you say about judging, and I think adults are the worst, Facebook gets me so annoyed every time I go on there’s status’s putting other people down, saying awful things like people who like certain things don’t deserve to live and all sorts of awful things!! My main problem with it not just that it’s judgment and bullying it is that like it or not kids of all ages read this stuff on Facebook, we should be setting an example, we should think about what we write, how would it effect a child minor or someone who is feeling vulnerable what example are we setting???

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