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Mother Strives for Healthful Meals on a Budget
Omaha World Herald ^ | August 7, 2007 | Omaha World Herald

Posted on 08/07/2007 11:00:37 AM PDT by NEMDF

Slice: Mother strives for healthful meals on a budget

Sandra Shepard has to make the $500 food stamp allotment she receives reach to the end of the month. She plans carefully so that she will be able to feed her family of five, including, daughter Macole Shepard, 13, and son Dominic Shepard, 10.At half past noon, the No. 30 rolls up. And the family's monthly marketing ritual is on.

Shepard's next three hours will be filled with comparison pricing and child pleas. It will wrap up with 33 plastic grocery bags and a crowded cab ride.

Not a suburban soccer mom's ideal afternoon, but Shepard doesn't mind.

The 44-year-old mother has no job, no car and no husband to share the bills. In her world wracked by financial instability, the monthly shopping trip offers a welcome bit of control.

The tricky part is stretching her food stamp allotment to feed her family of five.

Providing nutritious fare for a little more than $1 per meal per family member is challenging - and it's getting more so every month.

* * *

Grocery prices are soaring at the highest rate in years.

Not since 1980 has the annual growth rate of food bills been as high, said Steve Reed, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fresh vegetables and fruit helped drive up grocery costs 4.6 percent in June compared with a year ago. That's faster than the 2.7 percent inflation rate during that period.

Combine the squeeze at the supermarket with increasing demands on time, and

we're all in danger of falling short of hitting the U.S. Department of Agriculture measures for fit and healthy Americans.

Consider: Only one in five people eats the recommended daily amount of fruit; kids eat less than half the fruits and veggies our federal government advises; and obesity in youngsters is on the rise.

Failure to pull it all off could mean low performance at school or work and raise a number of health problems.

Nationwide, roughly 26 million people receive food stamps on debit-type plastic cards. Shepard is among the 120,000 or so in Nebraska. Half the recipients are children.

For them, the challenge is magnified with every trip to the grocery store.

* * *

When the No. 30 reaches the No Frills intersection, several passengers quickly jaywalk toward the store.

Shepard pauses, her bad foot still smarting from a slip on the ice while walking home from a party in December.

The broken bones have temporarily exempted her from food stamp work requirements.

When she gets a job, she wants day hours. Her past night shifts, Shepard says, have left her kids vulnerable to the streets. Her 15-year-old son has been in the youth detention center for truancy.

Thirteen-year-old daughter Macole, however, is on the honor roll, a distinction mom boasts on a bumper sticker plastered on her front door. Son Dominic, 10, also is on track, and Shepard wants to keep it that way.

She instructs Macole to run into the Dollar Tree for deodorant.

"Ain't nothin' but a dollar, and just as good."

Dominic and his mom saunter into the cool market. It's bursting with brilliant colors and orderly shelves, a contrast to their public housing apartment.

Shepard mounts a motorized scooter. Dominic grabs a shopping cart, and the mom-son caravan heads to the produce aisle.

Mom bypasses bananas, examines strawberries and settles on a pineapple. "Dang," she exclaims. "Apples went up."

She bags 10 nectarines and, after a third thought, gives in to the pricey Bing cherries. "It's summer," she reasons.

Shepard draws the line at the Asian cocktail shrimp that caught her daughter's eye. Nix on the beef Twister Dogs her son saw on TV.

She chooses calorie-dense, generic fish sticks over the trans-fat-free kind. Sodium-plenty salami and smoked liver are in; two-for-$1 corn on the cob out.

"That's just ridiculous. I'll buy the frozen corn."

Key to staying within budget, says Shepard, is buying in bulk. Economy-sized ketchup and pickles. Pork chops by the carton.

"I don't really care for pork chops, but they're cheap."

The 10-pound pack of ground beef will make four meals: spaghetti, sloppy Joes, tacos and hamburgers.

Breakfast? Her kids like the taste of plain-label cocoa puffs.

Snacks? She buys four $1 boxes of gummy candies.

Shepard calls the eight frozen pizzas and two dozen $1 TV dinners "fast food" - they're the closest her children get to Pizza Hut or KFC.

More often, she carves her own nuggets out of chicken breasts.

"Anything a restaurant can make, I can make better," says the former waitress.

She learned the craft from her ex, who was a better cook than a husband.

Just when it seems nothing more will fit in the two carts, Dominic stuffs in 30 Kool-Aid packets. They have sugar at home.

Finally, mom lets the kids splurge on the spicy deli wings they've been eyeing. They're cold and must be microwaved at home. Warm munchies, just like paper products and alcohol, aren't allowed under food stamp rules.

On to the register, where a cashier honors the outside ads tucked under Shepard's arm.

* * *

Total price tag: $346.

Shepard calls a cab, then pores over the draping receipt.

Her food stamp allotment for the month is $500. She has yet to buy food items she saw for less at Walgreens. That will barely leave the $100 food stamp reserve she tries to save for midmonth incidentals.

"Those Bing cherries did me in," she concludes.

The family's separate $500 state welfare check pays for rent, clothes, toiletries and other nonfood supplies.

Fifteen minutes later, Happy Cab arrives and Shepard packs the trunk with bags. Jumbo egg and Ramen noodle cartons ride on kids' laps.

Shepard calls ahead on her cell phone to round up carriers.

Keith, her 18-year-old, meets the cab at the 29th and Parker Streets housing project. A recent South High graduate, he baby-sits his girlfriend's child while she attends school.

Monte, the 15-year-old, is a no-show. The two oldest live in Missouri.

Once inside, Macole and Dominic snap into action.

They remove all frozen items from boxes so more fits in the refrigerator-freezer.

They store meat and cheese in the deep freezer, which Shepard bought for $80 with her Earned Income Tax Credit. She calls it her salvation because it lets her stock up on sale items.

"We always had a deep freeze growing up."

Shepard fondly recalls her "spoiled" childhood on a Missouri farm with fruit trees.

She became pregnant with her first child at age 20, had another child but never married their father.

She wound up in an Omaha shelter seven years ago after escaping the abusive man she did wed. Here, she received higher public assistance benefits and was absorbed into public housing.

Despite being in a high-crime pocket, she is pleased with her four-bedroom apartment. It's on the outer ring of the housing development, and she says violence is worse near the core.

Nonetheless, summer requires extra vigilance. The same watchful eye goes for the family budget, since the kids during this break don't get free school breakfasts and lunches.

* * *

For now, anyway, the refrigerator is full. Everyone's happy.

Shepard is frustrated by her limited mobility, but there's a bright side: She'd be throwing together a lot more "fast food" dinners if she were working.

Indeed, preparing healthful meals on a food stamp budget requires time and planning.

Dominic lobbies for his favorite: weenie and bean casserole topped with cornbread. Low in nutrients, but tasty and cheap.

Mom's doughnuts - hot biscuits topped with powdered sugar glaze - will be dessert.

"We manage," said Shepard. "You just deal with it the best you can."


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Government
KEYWORDS: welfare
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This just disgusts me. If it was meant to illicit sympathy for this family, it did not work. So many people who work full time and do not receive free breakfasts and lunches at school can not come CLOSE to having $125 per week to spend on food alone, plus all day to be creative in food preparation.

GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS

1 posted on 08/07/2007 11:00:40 AM PDT by NEMDF
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To: NEMDF

So the old lady is sucking off my packeck and bitches about it? Can’t eed ‘em, don’t breed ‘em.

I have 4 kids and rarely spend $500 a month for groceries. And i work for a living!


2 posted on 08/07/2007 11:04:13 AM PDT by Clam Digger (Hey Bill O'Reilly, you suck! How's that for pithy?)
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To: NEMDF

Yep, why is this news? Most of us are on a budget and budget for groceries along with everything else. Most of us look for sales, stock up when we can when there are items on sale, etc.

So why is this worthy of news coverage? Heck, you may as well do a story about how most people go to work everyday and earn a living. And how most people drive to work. And do a story about how many office workers get a lunch hour, though for some it’s a 30 minute break. This story just describes everyday life for many people, so what is the reason for running this type of story?


3 posted on 08/07/2007 11:06:45 AM PDT by Dilbert San Diego
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To: NEMDF
"Those Bing cherries did me in," she concludes.

Then why did she buy them?
4 posted on 08/07/2007 11:07:33 AM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: All

Shrimp cocktail?

I’m sorry, but expensive items like that should be off limits for food stamp purchase.

I spend maybe $10 a day to feed my husband and myself. But, I could feed us very well for a lot less than that.

$500 for 5 people, I’m sure I could do that easily. . .EASILY.


5 posted on 08/07/2007 11:07:56 AM PDT by Madeleine Ward
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To: NEMDF

Wonder if she smokes?


6 posted on 08/07/2007 11:10:33 AM PDT by Doctor Raoul (What's the difference between the CIA and the Free Clinic? The Free Clinic knows how to stop leaks.)
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To: NEMDF

Maybe she could try getting a job.

That would probably help her get a car.

And it might have been smart of her not to have five kids without a husband.

Sheesh.


7 posted on 08/07/2007 11:11:39 AM PDT by Xenalyte (Can you count, suckas? I say the future is ours . . . if you can count.)
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To: NEMDF
Why does she have to feed a family of five on food stamps?

At least one of her children is 24 years old, and one is 18.

There is a 15 year old, who certainly is capable of working: I had working papers at 14 and worked off the books before that age.

Only the 13 year old and the 10 year old can reasonably be expected to get fed without earning their keep.

And she is taking 8 months out of the work force because she partied too hard in December?

Amazing.

We didn't have much growing up, but there is no way my mother would ever have taken a dime in assistance when she was capable of working.

8 posted on 08/07/2007 11:12:41 AM PDT by wideawake (Why is it that so many self-proclaimed "Constitutionalists" know so little about the Constitution?)
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To: NEMDF

1) Where is the father (or, where are the fathers)?

2) If dad is dead, where is the life insurance?

3) If dad isn’t dead, why can’t he/they help?

4) If dad didn’t hang around after #1, why did she have #2, 3 and 4?


9 posted on 08/07/2007 11:12:58 AM PDT by Larry Lucido (Hunter 2008)
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To: NEMDF
"Nationwide, roughly 26 million people receive food stamps on debit-type plastic cards..."

Nearly 9% of this nation is on food stamps?? Boy, that welfare state thingie is great, ain't it? Kinda makes me want to quit my job, and spend the rest of my life sittin' on my tush while the checks roll in.
10 posted on 08/07/2007 11:15:19 AM PDT by LIConFem (Thompson 2008. Lifetime ACU Rating: 86 -- Hunter 2008 (VP) Lifetime ACU Rating: 92)
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To: wideawake
At least one of her children is 24 years old, and one is 18.

And supposedly farmers have no one to pick their crops. Sounds like it is time to cut welfare.
11 posted on 08/07/2007 11:15:31 AM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: NEMDF

Oh come on. I feed my family for less than that.

The 10-pound pack of ground beef will make four meals: spaghetti, sloppy Joes, tacos and hamburgers.

2-1/2 lbs per meal for spaghetti sauce, sloppy joes and tacos for a family of 5? 2-1/2 pounds will make about 25 tacos.


12 posted on 08/07/2007 11:16:26 AM PDT by keepitreal
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To: NEMDF

Stories like this pop up all the time and they invariably backfire. Back in 1999 a Toronto rag ran a series of sob stories about welfare moms in an effort to swing an election but they had the opposite effect; one of the stories featured a welfare mom who had cable TV, spent $100 a month on phone calls and spent $25 to cash her welfare cheque at a Money Mart when the banks cash them for free. Another story featured a welfare mom who had five kids by four different fathers and never bothered to make sure they went to school.


13 posted on 08/07/2007 11:16:40 AM PDT by Squawk 8888 (Is human activity causing the warming trend on Mars?)
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To: NEMDF
Dominic lobbies for his favorite: weenie and bean casserole topped with cornbread. Low in nutrients, but tasty and cheap Wrong! This is full of protein and fibre. Someone needs to check out the food labels a bit better before reporting.
14 posted on 08/07/2007 11:17:20 AM PDT by Clintons Are White Trash (Lynn Stewart, Helen Thomas , Molly Ivins, Maureen Dowd - The Axis of Ugly)
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To: NEMDF

As usual, the author of this article fails to mention the free breakfast and lunch program at the school as well as the additional food she can receive from various food pantries. (There may be other sources of free eats for this family, but those are two I thought of off the top of my head.)


15 posted on 08/07/2007 11:17:57 AM PDT by MEGoody (Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.)
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To: wideawake

I agree with you in principal, but it is almost impossible for a 15 year old to get any type of paying job in Omaha (where the woman in the this article and I live). The two older ones should definetly be working though.

It obviously was a slow news day at the Weird-Herald.


16 posted on 08/07/2007 11:19:37 AM PDT by Vor Lady (Through the gates of Hell, as we make our way toward Heaven....Primo Victoria!)
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To: NEMDF

If I had $500 per month to spend for food for my family I would feel like I won the lottery.

I fed them last month for $200 and change. Granted, there are only 3 of us, but still...


17 posted on 08/07/2007 11:20:07 AM PDT by I still care ("Remember... for it is the doom of men that they forget" - Merlin, from Excalibur)
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To: NEMDF
So many people who work full time and do not receive free breakfasts and lunches at school can not come CLOSE to having $125 per week to spend on food alone, plus all day to be creative in food preparation.

I agree. I just noticed a sign out in front of one of our middle schools which is advertising free breakfasts and lunches for the summertime. Ages 18 and under. Courtesy of our taxes, no doubt.

18 posted on 08/07/2007 11:20:57 AM PDT by LaineyDee (Don't mess with Texas wimmen!)
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To: NEMDF
Rice, beans, and potatoes.....
19 posted on 08/07/2007 11:21:10 AM PDT by Sybeck1 (I like Rodney Carrington's recipe for World Peace.)
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To: NEMDF

“They remove all frozen items from boxes so more fits in the refrigerator-freezer.

They store meat and cheese in the deep freezer, which Shepard bought for $80 with her Earned Income Tax Credit. She calls it her salvation because it lets her stock up on sale items.”

They make this sound like some sort of hardship. Many of us live this way, buying in bulk, cooking in bulk, freezing meal-sized batches to save money at the store. But, we don’t get a puff piece in the paper about the effect of rising grocery prices on the middle class - we just do it and make it do.


20 posted on 08/07/2007 11:22:26 AM PDT by keepitreal
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To: Larry Lucido
I am going to guess that the ex-husband and the other father or fathers have a work ethic equivalent to the mother's, and that not much support money is forthcoming as a result.

I wonder how much each of these barbecue chicken wing, biscuit-and-glaze, frozen pizza, gummi bear eating people weigh.

It's amazing that she buys all this pricey precooked prepared food when she sits around the house all day.

She certainly has time to make food from scratch for much cheaper.

21 posted on 08/07/2007 11:22:32 AM PDT by wideawake (Why is it that so many self-proclaimed "Constitutionalists" know so little about the Constitution?)
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To: All
This poor woman. she only has $500.00 a month of other people’s money to spend on groceries. I worked in supermarkets for 20 years. Food stamps and WIC checks inflate the cost of groceries. Any store in a heavy welfare/food stamp area have their prices bumped up. The welfare bums don’t “shop” and compare prices,etc...It’s all free!! The same goes for section 8 rent assistance.
22 posted on 08/07/2007 11:22:38 AM PDT by 4yearlurker (All comments now being monitored by BOR. He's looking out for you!)
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To: I still care

And if you think about, having NO JOB so you would have ALL DAY to do things like clean and cut up the carrots, cook in batches, etc., etc. And sometimes at my house we eat beanie weanie or eggs or the $.99/lb chicken parts because that IS ALL WE CAN AFFORD. And I have never FELT SORRY for myself over it.


23 posted on 08/07/2007 11:22:49 AM PDT by NEMDF
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To: NEMDF
I have a family of 4, including a 3 year old and a 1 year old. And we like to eat.

I couldn't tell you the last time we spent $500 on food in a month, including crap like soda, candy, and snacks.

24 posted on 08/07/2007 11:22:56 AM PDT by Phantom Lord (Fall on to your knees for the Phantom Lord)
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To: NEMDF

She only gets 4 meals out of 10 pounds of hamburger? I don’t want to brag but I think I could get 8 meals out of 10 pounds. For the 3 of us when my son was a teenager I could stretch a pound of hamburger to 2 meals.


25 posted on 08/07/2007 11:23:59 AM PDT by SwatTeam
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To: NEMDF

Shepard calls ahead on her cell phone to round up carriers....How much that costin’ me?


26 posted on 08/07/2007 11:25:47 AM PDT by Safetgiver (So simple, even a Muslim can do it.)
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To: wideawake
"We didn't have much growing up"

either did we...and we had 6 kids and a grandmother that stayed with us for a few years....

we ate apples...my mom worked occassionally picking apples so that is one thing we always had....

my mom made her own pizza, which was called "hot pie" back where I come from....dough and all.....she made the sauce by mixing tomato paste with a little water and oregano and other herbs or spices...we put cheese on it but never any meat...

she canned...she made home made soup....we had a good garden and we would eat tomato or cucumber sandwiches every day for lunch during the summer....

we had meatloaf...spaghetti...rarely did we have steak...maybe never.....

$500 seems like a lot to me.....this woman has nothing to complain about....

27 posted on 08/07/2007 11:26:34 AM PDT by cherry
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To: wideawake

Maybe they are too fat to work.


28 posted on 08/07/2007 11:28:50 AM PDT by normy (Don't hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.)
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To: NEMDF

“Shepard calls ahead on her cell phone to round up carriers”

Who pays for the cell phone?


29 posted on 08/07/2007 11:29:02 AM PDT by Bruinator
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To: NEMDF

The food budget does goe up in the summer, but I’m surprised her 10 pounds of hamburger only makes four meals. That’s 2 1/2 pounds per meal! For only five people? Ten pounds would be 10 meals around here ;-)

It’s too bad home economics classes are no longer taught in school. I think the mom in the story needs some advice, and I think the writer probably grew up in a home where pinching pennies on the grocery budget would have been exotic.


30 posted on 08/07/2007 11:29:37 AM PDT by Cloverfarm (Children are a blessing ...)
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To: Clam Digger

I spend $300 to $400 a week on groceries, but then again I pay for it....


31 posted on 08/07/2007 11:29:42 AM PDT by dakine
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To: NEMDF

btt


32 posted on 08/07/2007 11:30:41 AM PDT by what's up
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To: Dilbert San Diego

The only point made here was the cost of food is going up at almost twice the rate of inflation, and that was only for the month of June.

One could argue that the administration in Washington is not doing enough to see that people are getting access to the fruits and vegetables that they will need to help win the war on the epidemic of obesity by reading between the lines but you’re right, this qualifies more as filler as it stands.


33 posted on 08/07/2007 11:30:54 AM PDT by Old Professer (The critic writes with rapier pen, dips it twice, and writes again.)
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To: Cloverfarm

“It’s too bad home economics classes are no longer taught in school.”

Shop, too. But that would be sexist. Better to have all those sex ed classes.


34 posted on 08/07/2007 11:33:46 AM PDT by keepitreal
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To: NEMDF
Every post in this thread is right on the money -

The oldest ones can work, and why is welfare paying for kids over 18 anyway - shouldn't they get their own welfare allowances? OR A JOB????

I am so tired of this welfare state of affairs in America. Too much Gimme and not enough Give.

35 posted on 08/07/2007 11:34:13 AM PDT by Chili Girl
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To: Safetgiver
Shepard calls ahead on her cell phone to round up carriers....How much that costin’ me?

Yep, she gets housing free, free medical, $500 a month in free food, no wonder she can afford a cellphone and a taxi ride. Wah, what a great country, where having a cell phone and digital cable (i'm SURE she has!) still allows you to be considered poor.

Shiite, she's better off than many honest people who work fro a damn living.

36 posted on 08/07/2007 11:36:09 AM PDT by Clam Digger (Hey Bill O'Reilly, you suck! How's that for pithy?)
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To: P-40
"Those Bing cherries did me in," she concludes.

That's funny. I love cherries, but they're so expensive that I never buy them. I can't justify the expense. I try and rationalize, but it's just not worth the $4 per lb they cost. Maybe I need to get on food stamps.

37 posted on 08/07/2007 11:36:10 AM PDT by T.Smith
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To: Old Professer

“One could argue that the administration in Washington is not doing enough to see that people are getting access to the fruits and vegetables that they will need to help win the war on the epidemic of obesity”

I feed my family plenty of fruits and vegetables on less than this woman spends. But, my kids can’t have big bags of gummy bears at $2 per bag when I can buy 4-6 apples or a bag of carrots for the same price.


38 posted on 08/07/2007 11:36:11 AM PDT by keepitreal
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To: keepitreal

Yes and it did say she passed on bananas... generally one of the least expensive fruits. And she does seem to buy frozen veggies which are generally more costly than canned. So I don’t really think the administration in Washington somehow should be seeing that we have access to fruits and vegetables.


39 posted on 08/07/2007 11:39:47 AM PDT by NEMDF
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To: Squawk 8888

I will never forget being behind a woman in line at the store in Chicago who bought Salmon and Beef for her cat when they told her she couldn’t get the catfood for stamps. Oh yeah, she had a cab waiting for her outside as well.


40 posted on 08/07/2007 11:40:14 AM PDT by Kozak
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To: NEMDF

bing cherries, tv dinners, shrimp cocktail?

And what is healthful about TV dinners, Kool Aid and frozen pizzas???

I thought food stamps were just supposed to cover milk, cheese, eggs, beans, tuna, juice, peanut butter...stuff like that? Granted, I have to admit, I’ve never seen a food stamp...are they stamps?


41 posted on 08/07/2007 11:41:32 AM PDT by Cailleach
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To: NEMDF

No sympathy from me either. Cry me a river lady, I’d love to blow $500/month on groceries.

Who writes this stuff anyway?


42 posted on 08/07/2007 11:41:49 AM PDT by HanneyBean
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To: wideawake
She certainly has time to make food from scratch for much cheaper.
Cheaper and tastier!
43 posted on 08/07/2007 11:41:50 AM PDT by eastsider
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To: wideawake; Xenalyte; Clam Digger
Keith, her 18-year-old, meets the cab at the 29th and Parker Streets housing project. A recent South High graduate, he baby-sits his girlfriend's child while she attends school.

Monte, the 15-year-old, is a no-show. The two oldest live in Missouri.

Oldest child is a high school graduate. He should have a job and be supporting himself. (What do you bet the "girlfriend's" child is also his?) Second child is out of the house ... in Juvenile Detention, it sounds like, as well as in Missouri.

That leaves her with herself, a 13-year-old boy, and a 10-year-old girl. And nothing to do but cook nutritious meals for them.

44 posted on 08/07/2007 11:42:24 AM PDT by Tax-chick (All the main characters die, and then the Prince of Norway delivers the Epilogue.)
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To: NEMDF
People on welfare with 12 square feet of soil at their disposal should be taught how to start and maintain a vegetable garden.

Seed packets generally cost less than one dollar and can grow hundreds of pounds of produce.
45 posted on 08/07/2007 11:43:24 AM PDT by elizabetty (The funding dried up and I can no longer afford Tagline Messages.)
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To: Cailleach
I’ve never seen a food stamp...are they stamps?

They used to be coupons, but now many states have gone to an electronic debit card so the recipients won't have their precious self esteem damaged by being readily recognized as parasites.

46 posted on 08/07/2007 11:44:04 AM PDT by Tijeras_Slim
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To: Tax-chick

To her credit, at least two of her kids have he same last name as she does. That’s unusual for this kind of story.


47 posted on 08/07/2007 11:44:51 AM PDT by Clam Digger (Hey Bill O'Reilly, you suck! How's that for pithy?)
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To: normy
Maybe they are too fat to work.

I don't know about that, but the mother is definitely not about to run any marathons any time soon.


48 posted on 08/07/2007 11:47:28 AM PDT by T.Smith
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To: Vor Lady

Have to disagree. I live in Omaha, and my 15 year-old daughter had a choice between 2 jobs that she was offered, both working in grocery stores for minimum wage plus.

The jobs are there if the kids go looking for them.


49 posted on 08/07/2007 11:47:34 AM PDT by LeftiesBinWhinin (Reach out and touch an Islamic extremist - with your shotgun.)
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To: LaineyDee
I just noticed a sign out in front of one of our middle schools which is advertising free breakfasts and lunches for the summertime.

We had that program here in Colorado as well--it's a federal government program. My husband kept noticing all these Mexican families heading into the school each morning. I just happened to look at the local school district's website and discovered the "free" program. They were feeding kids from anywhere from 1 years old on up to 18.

50 posted on 08/07/2007 11:48:34 AM PDT by beaversmom
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