Calculating Tough Choices

A woman who uses a food pantry going back to school.
January 5, 2016
by Colleen Callahan

In my role at Feeding America, I've met people across the U.S. who face hunger. Many of the people who have generously shared their stories with me at food pantries defy the myth of who “belongs” in line for food assistance. They are not lazy. They are hardworking. The families I speak with often work long hours and multiple jobs – but because their jobs pay minimum wage or slightly above, they still struggle to get by. It’s hard to take care of a family on around $15,000 a year – and as a result low-income households are often forced to make tough decisions. Daniel, a father and house painter in Santa Barbara, said he has had to choose between paying for medicine and buying groceries for his young family. Derek, a father of three who works in security in St. Louis, told me he often has to choose between paying bills and buying food.

What would you do if – despite your hard work – you had to make tough choices like the ones Derek and Daniel have to make? I recently came across an interactive budget calculator, created by Marketplace that puts you in the position of someone earning a low-income wage. Even after hearing story after story of this similar struggle, I found it extremely insightful, as it was near impossible for me to balance my wages – even when I listed my family as one without children.

Although the results of this exercise can be discouraging, I’m encouraged by the fact that Feeding America can help take tough choices off of families’ plates. Food pantries across the country free up families’ groceries budgets, so they can use the money they do have to pay bills, go to school and receive medical care. When you think of it that way, it’s amazing how far donating a simple meal can go. A simple meal could be all a working family needs to pay that bill that enables them to stay afloat, so they can keep sailing towards a brighter future. A simple meal is so much more than food – it’s a gift that could change lives.

*Colleen Callahan is a communication manager and content producer at Feeding America.

Tags: Fighting Hunger in Action , Working Poor

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