Despite having read this article only 10 days or so prior, when my son received an envelope in the mail from the government at the end of September, I never imagined it would contain a plastic EBT card worth $420. The money was to compensate him for having missed out on his school lunches between March and June of this year.
My son, like every other student in the Albany City School District, is provided with a meal during a typical school day at no cost. This is not a needs based program, it is universal. When my son was in elementary school he went to school every day with a lunch prepared at home for him. Truth be told, he did better with those midday meals when his dad made them. It was never one of my strengths.
Prior to the free lunch for all program, my child racked up a balance in the lunchroom and the school district billed me $50 or $60 for meals they provided to my son on days he requested lunch in the cafeteria. I wonder if there is correlation between who made his lunch on the days he opted for the cafeteria meal, but I digress.
I paid that bill, in all honesty, annoyed by the inability of the lunch staff to simply tell my son “No,” a word with which he was familiar and which would have compelled him to just eat what he had brought from home. When I wrote the check to make that payment, I paused to consider how fortunate our family was to be in a position in which our food needs were able to met, sometimes even in multiple ways in a single meal.
Last week when my son and I together read the letter which accompanied the plastic card he had received, his first question to me was “Do we need this?” I told him we didn’t, we were fine without the government assistance. The letter stated, though, that should the funds attached to the card not be spent, they would not be reallocated. Use it or lose it.
So, we’ve been talking about what might be the best way to maximize the way the $420 gets spent. While there’s a real appeal to using the card at the holidays to help some families have a wonderful and festive season, there are people who may not be a position to wait 10 more weeks for their pantries to be filled. Unlike the bureaucracy that provided my son with this benefit card, I appreciate that many families can not wait 6 months to be provided with the means to replace lost meals. We need to do something sooner.
After some discussion, we’ve decided to spend the money by allocating it in two different ways – both local. Our first plan is to shop the Delaware Avenue Tuesday Farmer’s Market for items to donate to Albany Free Food Fridges. The market provides a $2 coupon for every $5 spent using an EBT card, which seems to be an amazing way to maximize the money. If we can purchase $250 worth of produce and earn an additional $88 to spend, that seems like good math to me.
The remaining balance on the card will be dedicated to purchasing groceries for a family in need. I’ve got some inquiries queued up and ready to go and we hope to be able to provide assistance to someone who is struggling to adequately feed their household.
While we may not need the money attached to this program, reflecting on our good fortune and discussing the best way to share that with which we have been provided, has been priceless. Have any of you considered other ways to share an unexpected and unnecessary windfall?