Something happened today at Publix that really bothered me, enough that I want to share it, but before I do, I want to make one thing clear. My unmitigated love for Publix has been well-documented, so I'm not calling out the company itself for one bad experience with an employee or suggesting a boycott of the company in any way. In fact, please don't damage the Publix brand because of this story, because if my access to Publix deli subs and sandwich wraps ever gets cut off, I just might starve to death.
I was in my neighborhood store picking up lunch from the deli, and the woman in line in front of me was buying a sheet cake, plus a couple of other items I didn't pay attention to. I really wasn't trying to be nosy, and the only reason I even noticed the sheet cake is because Publix sheet cake is like ambrosia from the gods, and as soon as I saw it, I wanted to eat at least half of it. But once the customer was gone, the cashier who was ringing me up, an older lady, sarcastically remarked, "I didn't know you could use food stamps to buy sheet cakes," adding a snide little grunt at the end.
It took me a second to soak in her meaning, and I looked through the vestibule of the grocery store at the woman, just as she was exiting the store with her cake perched carefully across the top of the cart. I looked back at the cashier and said, "You know, a lot of folks are using those FEMA food stamps to replace all the food they lost in the hurricane, right." The cashier looked at me and said, with a sly, kind of conspiratorial look in her eye, that those aren't EBT cards.
Maybe. Maybe not. Still not sure how that's any of her business. Personally, I plan on using my FEMA food stamps as soon as I get them, and proudly at that. Not only am I always looking for the hookup, but I'm not the kind of person who sees my taxes as some sort of charitable contribution to the common good. Any chance I get to legally get my money back out of the system, I'm taking it. I didn't want to fight with the lady, and I really did have places to be, so I just said in parting, "Well, it may not seem right, but I guess poor kids want to celebrate their birthdays too." Then, having learned that only fools argue with fools, I kept on strutting out the door. Then I walked right back inside and up to the deli counter because I realized I forgot to get a fork to eat my chicken salad. But THEN I walked triumphantly out the door again.
Several things bothered me about the exchange, aside from the fact that again, this is really none of her business, and certainly none of mine for her to be sharing my neighbor's business with me.
First, if the law allows that food stamps or other assistance can be used to buy cakes from the grocery bakery, then it must be because the government and community recognize that poor kids do, indeed, celebrate their birthdays. Food stamp allowances, just like any other currency, is limited and budgeted, and if a mother wants to cut back on the crackers or canned goods or whatever and splurge on a birthday cake this month, then I say God bless her. What does this lady expect that children in these families are supposed to do for their birthdays? Balance a flashlight on top of a box of generic oat bran cereal and make a wish that their parents were more responsible or ambitious? Does her mercy and brotherly love only extend to powdered milk and canned beans? Even Marie Antoinette let them eat cake.
Furthermore, her attitude towards this woman is severely undercut by the fact that she had literally just begged me for a dollar to "help underprivileged families through the holiday season." One thing I like about Publix is that they raise money for so many charitable organizations and give their customers a chance to donate to worthy causes. On the other hand, one thing I don't like is that they are hitting me up for an extra dollar or five every time I come in to buy a pack of gum or an onion for tonight's dinner recipe. This woman has no problem guilting me into charging an extra dollar on my bill for poor families in the neighborhood, but when a real live poor person, I'm assuming, comes in the store, there's no love for her. Maybe its easier to care about the poor when you don't have to actually interact with them. Or maybe we only want to help less fortunate people when we get to decide what they do with that help.
And speaking of the of less fortunate, maybe we should refrain from judging someone else's situation. I'm not trying to cast aspersions on this cashier's job or finances, or even her character, really, but I wonder if it has occurred to her that, as an older woman working the register at the local grocery store, that she may not be very far away from her EBT customer's position anyway. A lot of us have really lean months where we struggle to stretch our money around our bills, and a few of those months in a row could have the best of us seriously thinking about looking for some help, even if it's minimal or temporary. Furthermore, we often act like people who use food stamps are just leeches, when the fact is that many users have already put at least as much money into the system as they are taking out, and will repay whatever benefits they got once they get better employed or out of debt.
Lastly, what does this cashier lady tell her own kids or
grandkids when it’s their birthdays? “Return all those gifts. You don’t deserve
free stuff just because it’s the anniversary of your existence?” Birthdays are
literally all about getting free stuff just for being alive, getting gifts just
because you managed to survive another year on the planet. Even Publix recognizes this, because they are so awesome, and gives parents free stuff for babies and discounts on party supplies for their first three birthdays (parents, get that hookup). They even give away a free baby cake with the purchase of a sheet cake on the child's first birthday, so you can take those crazy pictures of your child desecrating a delicious dessert.
I guess the thing I hated most about that interaction was the fact that some people just can't stand to see some folks celebrating anything, as if someone else's fortune or blessing is a personal affront to them. "If you feel that strongly about it, you could always have paid for that cake yourself, to make sure that none of our tax dollars were spent on a child's happiness," I said piously to myself as I pulled my seatbelt across my chest in the parking lot, too lazy to go back inside and confront the woman again.