I never knew how wrong I was about people on food stamps — until I was one of them.

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Before the Great Recession, Dawn Pierce was a paralegal for a successful bankruptcy attorney. But then the American economy collapsed and she lost everything except her family.

Pierce, a mother of one from Boise, Idaho, never thought she’d be in a position where she couldn’t provide for her family. But with a son to feed and no real source of income to buy groceries, she had no choice but to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal entitlement better known as “food stamps” that helps lower income families purchase food.

I felt like an absolute failure as a mother because, as a parent, we just want to take care of our children, and to have to ask for help makes us feel like we’re less of a parent,” Pierce says.

But using the program opened up Pierce’s eyes to just how false the negative stereotypes about people who receive food stamps are.

“I used to think that people on food stamps were just leeching off the government,” she explains. “And, through my own time on SNAP, it really taught me that food stamps and SNAP can look like anybody.”

It wasn’t just her own internal shame she had to burden — in one intense encounter at the supermarket, a stranger publicly humiliated her for being poor. It’s a harrowing exchange, one that left her feeling punched in the stomach. But if Pierce ever sees the woman who shamed her again, she has two choice words for her: Thank you.

“You know, the woman at the grocery store, I really wish I knew her name,” she says. “I would thank her for lighting a fire under me, because she pushed me in a direction that I think is now helping people.”

In her powerful video-op ed for Mic, Pierce takes you on her emotional journey through the wake of the recession, in which she triumphed over her own personal adversity with the help of SNAP benefits. In it, she’ll explain how you can make a difference in the lives of Americans who desperately need assistance. Watch it in the link above.

Anthony Smith
Senior writer