One of the truly head-smacking responses to recent local conversations about concentrated poverty in our schools has been the posts by several people on social media that they thought they’d just sign up for Free and Reduced Meals assistance. Their reasoning? It was clearly so easy to get. So it was really a scam and lots of people were lying to game the system.
Is there any way these individuals could know whether or not what they claim is true? No. But it makes them feel big and knowing to say it, and it makes people who are not like them look small.
Another line of thinking put forward is that the poster has been through a lot and been an upstanding citizen and never asked for help, so now the county schools “owe them”. Now it’s time for them to “get something.”
All of this comes down to a toxic thought process around who “deserves” help. People make assumptions about others based solely on their own life experiences. They can’t imagine what it is like to truly have no food to feed one’s children, so they accuse FARM recipients of lying. Or of being lazy, or stupid, or selfish. Furthermore, if someone is receiving any benefit that they do not, they want to appoint themselves the gatekeepers of The Deserving Poor.
And now that things are not going the way some of them would like, they think it’s hilarious to suggest taking assistance that they do not truly need. As revenge, maybe? As a suggestion that supports for vulnerable families are nothing but a joke?
I wish I had been able to contact these posters directly to provide some assistance of my own. Or, rather, an invitation. Last Tuesday the Oakland Mills High School Alpha Achievers hosted their annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Come and enjoy a fantastic Thanksgiving Dinner served by the Alpha Achievers of Oakland Mills. bring the whole family. This event is open to all.
I imagine that our FARMs-disparaging friends might have learned a lot by coming and sitting down with many of the same people they generally mock and/or shrink from. How educational it might have been for them to receive genuine charity that came with no judgement, no strings attached. No one was guarding the door in order to screen out the “undeserving.”
A community that many look down on as less-than somehow manages to give of itself, with abundance, every Thanksgiving. And they give without judgement. They do the work, they trust in the gift.
They are not looking for “free handouts”. They are giving free handouts.
I am just earnest and hopeful enough to want to believe that the experience of receiving such a gift and breaking bread with those who are “other” might change our jaded naysayers. Do I think it’s likely? Sadly, no. And do the families in less affluent schools “owe them” anything in order to prove their own humanity? Absolutely not.
I just wish we could move beyond specious arguments about owing and deserving and do the real work of community building and education.
It’s not about what is owed us or what what we deserve. It is about what all of us owe to one another.