The day my son was born, my life changed forever.
As soon as my ever-precious, tiny human was put in my arms, my priorities for and dreams of the future shifted, another hat to wear (mother) was added to my head – and my appreciation for my mom and her struggles as a refugee making a new life with a young family in America was renewed. The sacrifices my mom made and the challenges she overcame are more apparent to me today than just a few years ago, before my son came along. So, too, is the support she needed to get through it all, including federal food programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
With very little English, literally nothing in their pockets, and with two toddlers under three years old and a baby on the way (that would be me), my parents came to the United States in 1978 as part of the Vietnamese diaspora fleeing a brutal communist regime. Like so many other boat people that came to the United States with no connection to the country other than a hope to make a better life for their family, my parents struggled with poverty and, particularly, food insecurity. With children who spent their first years in a refugee camp, and whose young minds and bodies needed critical nutrition, programs like SNAP were a lifeline for my parents, helping them to put food on the table for their young family during a very difficult time. Throughout the next few years, SNAP would also help our family through layoffs, illness, and other tough moments.
SNAP’s impact on my family is not unique. The impact of the program is felt nationwide and cannot be overstated. Firstly, SNAP is critical for the most vulnerable in our communities. In fact, two-thirds of the people that need SNAP to know where their next meal will come from are children, seniors, and people with disabilities. More than 40 percent of the people who benefit from SNAP are children. Secondly, SNAP has an anti-hunger strength that rivals that of the charitable food sector. For every meal that Feeding America’s network of 200 food banks and 60,000 partner pantries and meals sites provides, SNAP provides nine. SNAP is also an economic multiplier that infuses money into local economies. Every dollar spent in SNAP benefits helps generate between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity. The program works as a springboard that helps both families and the economy get back on track when times are hard.
Now, as mom myself, I struggle to imagine what it must have been like for my mother in those early years – to open the fridge door knowing that she might not have enough in it to put a meal on the table. I remember stories of my mom holding me as a crying baby, knowing that there was no milk in the fridge, wondering what she would do to get through the day. The challenges she took on, like so many immigrant mothers, have allowed children like me to grow up and succeed in this country. We are the “American dream” that so many people imagine when they land on the shores of this country.
On days like Mother’s Day, I am reminded of the importance of continuing to invest in resources that help ensure mothers, parents, and caretakers of all kinds and their families are able to thrive – not just survive. I’m also reminded of the sacrifices my own mother made that created room for me to grow and flourish and wake up every morning with the privilege of saying, “I am feeding America.”