(By Charlie Archambault)

The main focus of my job is to work on food stamps, or SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], policy and outreach for the District of Columbia. I’m not just at a desk typing about ways that I think the program could be better. I’m out in the community talking to people who depend on these nutrition programs. So I might go to a senior center and do a presentation about SNAP. I’ll help people fill out the application directly. What I love about the position is that I can take the experiences that I have day to day in the field and bring those to bear when we’re at the table talking about policy improvements.

People can be poor, but that doesn’t mean they’re gonna go around talking about how hungry they are. It’s a silent thing. A mom’s not going to come right out and say, “I don’t eat dinner so that my kids can eat,” but if you have a conversation about what the situation is at the end of the month, that kind of becomes clear.

Food is such a personal thing. Food is an expression of thanks and of appreciation and of love, and I think that not having enough money to provide that doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t still going to try to go out of their way to express their emotions through food. I helped someone once, and then immediately after, they took me to a fast-food restaurant and wanted to buy me something. In my mind I was like, Clearly, you’re in a situation where you don’t have enough money for food, but you want to express your gratitude to me by buying me a meal. So it’s that thing of wanting to be generous no matter how little you have.

I think what drew me to anti-hunger work was the experiences I had. I grew up in rural North Carolina. I do know that my mother received WIC at some point. As a young child, I had always been comparing myself to classmates, and I’d say, “Well, their parents have money, and they’re buying them all these name-brand clothes at the mall.” Or, “We have reduced lunch; I can’t get all those extras with my lunch.” Stuff like that. But then we had these relatives come up from Florida, and I realized we have it a lot better than a lot of people in my family.

When I’m interacting with clients, I really think that it’s important to let people do more of the talking. I’m not there to give them the answers or tell them how to live their lives. I’m there to be a listening ear and try to empathize with what they are going through. You can’t come in like you’re gonna wear the white hat and give a community what they want if you haven’t even asked them what it is that they want.

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