Dawn recently waited in line for about 30 minutes to pick up a box of fresh fruits and vegetables – produce handed out by the Great Plains Food Bank as part of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
As she left the distribution, Dawn said she was grateful for two reasons: She could enjoy some fresh fruits and vegetables, and she didn’t have children at home to feed.
“I have no idea how families do it,” she says. “I worry about my friends with kids and grandkids.”
Dawn has been off and on SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, for nearly 20 years. She also receives disability benefits.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she receives $194 in SNAP benefits a month. That’s still less than she used to be eligible for in the early 2000s.
“It’s like we don’t exist. We’ve all been ignored,” she says. “Some of us really need the help.”
With her SNAP benefits, Dawn tries to purchase milk, cereals and meats each month. She was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and struggles to keep her weight in a healthy range. Diet is one way she can manage some of the disease’s effects, but she’s limited in what she can afford.
When she has the funds, Dawn buys protein drinks in bulk. These are gentle on her digestive system and ensure that she gets the proper nutrition. But sometimes there isn’t enough money.
“Then I buy TV dinners because that’s what I can afford and that is not a healthy meal,” she says.
If Dawn received more SNAP benefits, she’d find a way to get more protein into her body. She’d buy nutritious fruits and vegetables instead of buying vitamins on sale.
“You should be able to get the nutrients you need from the foods you eat,” she says. “But vitamins take the place of what I can’t afford.”