No, I Have No Sympathy

I’m often accused of being heartless when I read media stories meant to tug at the heartstrings – stories about the nation’s poor, about hungry children, about stinking, miserable poverty that are meant to make me feel better about government spending yet more of my hard-earned tax dollars ostensibly to “help the poor.”


Because I have no sympathy. None. Sure, there are real stories of hardship out there, but frankly, I’ve been there and done that, so while I can empathize, what I usually see in these stories is parental FAIL, government FAIL and, to an extent, society FAIL. But I don’t see society FAIL in our failure to spend more money to provide more food for the destitute. I see society FAIL in preventing generational dependence on handouts, rather than fostering self-reliance and ingenuity.

When I first came to this country with my parents, we were destitute in a very real sense of the word.  We had a couple of suitcases, $300 in cash, and a $3000 debt we owed various organizations that helped us escape the Soviet Union. For the first few months, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my aunt and grandfather. My parents and I used the living room for a bedroom for the three of us. My aunt and grandpa slept in the “bedroom.” There was one bathroom for the five of us. I remember being so thrilled that it actually had toilet paper, because back in the USSR we used old newspaper to wipe. Toilet paper was cool!

Those first few weeks, I joined my grandfather on his excursions through Brooklyn, NY. He would walk the streets and look through people’s garbage to see if there was anything he could pick up. You’d be surprised what people threw out! I got toys, some books that helped me learn English and even some clothes!

Yeah… from other people’s trash.

After a few weeks, we moved into an apartment of our own a few blocks from my aunt and grandpa. It was small and infested with cockroaches. A lot of cockroaches. And no matter what the building did to exterminate, they were all over the place like the plague. They were on light switches when you tried to turn the lights on, in the sink, in the bathroom, in the shower, on my pillow and walls… everywhere. My parents had a room, as did I, and my dad got a menial job – yeah, even with his two Master’s degrees in engineering – to support us.

Furniture? Trash. It’s not like we actually brought anything with us! What we did bring that was worth anything was pretty much stolen by the customs “people” on the border. My dad found two frames for wooden armchairs in other people’s trash. He found wooden planks, which he placed on top of the chairs and cushions from other people’s garbage to place on top of the planks. We had some throws we brought with us from the USSR, so he put them on top of the old cushions, so we wouldn’t have to sit on them directly.

TV? Trash. My dad found a little 10-inch set, which he fixed (those Master’s degrees in engineering came in handy). It had rabbit ears, and sometimes, you had to wrap the things in foil in order to be able to see what was happening on that screen. That’s how I learned English. Watching cartoons on that little TV.

Food was always nutritious, even though we had nearly nothing to spend on it. I ate ice cubes instead of ice pops and ice cream. No candy. No soda. I didn’t even know what soda was until about a year after living in the United States! But we had chicken (it was the most inexpensive protein out there), cereal, milk, some juice, some fruit, vegetables, bread, milk, eggs and potatoes and rice. That’s it. Not an exciting menu, but it got us through each week. I didn’t starve, and I ate food that was good for me.

I wore pretty much the same clothes day after day. I had a couple of outfits. We saved the “nice” ones for school picture day. The other kids at school looked at me funny, because I didn’t change my clothes daily. The only thing I did change daily – a luxury back then – was the color of rubber bands in my pigtails. We found a few discarded items in others’ trash, so my mom washed them, and I wore those too. My clothes were always clean, even if they were washed in the sink with some soap by hand.

So yeah… I know stinking poverty. I’ve lived it. And when I see stories such as this atrocity in the Washington Post, I don’t look at my country and condemn it for not feeding the poor! I don’t look at the family in this story and think, “Look at me! I have all this stuff! I could give a little more!”

No. I read this story, and I see parental fail and societal fail for breeding generations of leeches, who have no desire or drive to care for themselves, but instead rely on handouts.

The lengthy article focuses on a new program to feed hungry kids in rural Tennessee.

The setting.

 First, schools became the country’s biggest soup kitchens, as free and reduced-price lunch programs expanded to include free breakfast, then free snacks and then free backpacks of canned goods sent home for weekends. Now those programs are extending into summer, even though classes stop, in order for children to have a dependable source of food. Some elementary school buildings stay open year-round so cafeterias can serve low-income students. High schools begin summer programs earlier to offer free breakfast.

How did government address this issue of child hunger? They threw more money at the problem. A record $15 billion annually to feed 21 million low-income children in the nation’s schools. And another $400 million to feed these kids over the summer funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Governors came together to form a task force. Michelle Obama suggested items for a menu. Food banks opened thousands of summer cafes, and still only about 15 percent of eligible children received regular summer meals.

Why? Because they apparently couldn’t make it to the food. The food had to be brought to them.

And late last month came the newest iteration: a school bus retrofitted into a bread truck bouncing along a potholed road near the Blue Ridge Mountains. It parked in a valley of 30 single-wide trailers — some rotting in the sun, others swallowed by weeds and mosquitoes alongside the Nolichucky River. The driver opened his window and listened to the utter silence. “It feels like a ghost town,” he said.


So, earlier this year, a food bank in Tennessee came up with a plan to reverse the model. Instead of relying on children to find their own transportation to summer meal sites, it would bring food to children. The food bank bought four used school buses for $4,000 each and designed routes that snake through some of the most destitute land in the country, where poverty rates have almost doubled since 2009 and two-thirds of children qualify for free meals.

A very depressing setting in a rural community of trailers, where children must rely on government and food bank assistance to have access to food. Yes, it’s sad.

 A 5-year-old girl saw the dust trail of the bus and pedaled toward it on a red tricycle. Three teenage boys came barefoot in swimsuits. A young mother walked over from her trailer with an infant daughter in one arm and a lit cigarette in the other. “Any chance there will be leftover food for adults?” she asked.

It was almost 1 p.m. For some, this would be the first meal of the day. For others, the last.

Observation #1: Mom has money for cigarettes, but none to feed her infant.

My parents had both been smokers for years. Pretty much everyone in the former USSR was – they smoked and drank a lot to get through life, I guess. But somehow, my parents prioritized food over cigarettes and booze during those lean years.

On this day, what [the food bank worker] saw at the first stop was five siblings arriving in clothes still stained from the pizza sauce they had been served on the bus the day before. “Did you get a chance to change today?” Anderson asked one of them, a 10-year-old girl. “Into what?” she said.

Next, at the second stop, a 7-year-old whose parents were both at work arrived carrying his 1-year-old sister in nothing but a diaper, spoon-feeding her juice from the bottom of his fruit cocktail cup. “She can’t eat chunks yet,” he said.

At the third stop, a high school football player pleaded for extra milk; at the fourth, teenagers fired rifles at cans up the road; at the fifth, always the most crowded, kids, parents and dogs waited in the shade under the trailer park’s only tree.

“Finally!” one of them said as the bus pulled in. He was a 12-year-old boy, shirtless and muddy with half of a cigarette tucked behind his ear, and he barged onto the bus and grabbed his lunch. “Bologna again?” he asked, studying his sandwich.

Observation #2: Kids received pizza the previous day, so there’s enough variety in the meals to at least provide a somewhat varied menu. Kid bitches about “bologna again.” Kid is rude. Kid is an entitled little shit.

Kid smokes. Cigarettes are expensive.

OK, honestly, if the child was truly hungry, he would take what is given to him and eaten it without complaint. That’s what true hunger is. True hunger is not complaining about what is given. Given by taxpayers. Provided by people who care about the hungry. But apparently, the kid feels himself not only entitled to the free meal, but entitled to a variety of which he approves! Sorry, that’s a no-go.

The rest of the story focuses on one particular family, living in a trailer in the area.

At Cedar Grove, the first stop, all five Laughren siblings returned to their single-wide trailer, back into the vacuum of their summer. Their mother usually took the family’s only car to work, leaving the children stranded in the trailer park. Admission to the nearby swimming pool cost $3 per person and they only had $4.50 among them. The cable company had cut off their service, and they had already spent the morning watching a DVD of “Fast & Furious” twice.

I will withhold comment about the fact that no one living in stinking poverty – real, third-world stinking poverty has a VCR, let alone a DVD player or DVDs.  My parents didn’t even purchase their first VCR until we had been living in the US for more than seven years! But hey… first world problems.

The children aren’t “stranded” in the trailer park. The oldest one is 14 – old enough to clean up, make some dinner, take the others for a walk, mow lawns or babysit for extra cash, etc.  So can the 13 year old.

But no, there’s no dinner to be made. Why?

“I am so freaking bored,” said Courtney Laughren, 13, walking over to their refrigerator 21 hours before the school bus was scheduled to return. Inside she found leftover doughnuts, ketchup, hot sauce, milk and bread. “Desperation time,” she said, reaching for a half-eaten doughnut and closing the door.


For Taylor, 14, it meant stockpiling calories whenever food was available, ingesting enough processed sugar and salt to bring on a doctor’s lecture about obesity and early-onset diabetes, the most common risks of a food-stamp diet.


For Sarah, the 9-month-old baby, it meant sometimes being fed Mountain Dew out of the can after she finished her formula, a dose of caffeine that kept her up at night.


[Mom’s] $593 in monthly food stamps usually lasted the entire month. They ate chicken casserole and ground beef for dinner. But now, with school out, she was down to $73 in food stamps with 17 days left in the month. “Thank God for the bus,” she said, but even that solved their problems for only one meal a day.


 She walked into the kitchen, collected what items remained in the pantry and set them on the table for dinner. “Buffet’s ready,” she announced. The children ate corn chips, Doritos, bread, leftover doughnuts, Airheads candy and Dr Pepper.


Her food stamps could be used for cold food but not hot food, and the nearby grocery store sold pre-made sandwiches for half-price after 8 p.m. She loaded all five kids into the car and drove a mile to the supermarket. They chose three subs from a case that glowed under fluorescent lights. They shared two, mushing pieces of bread for the baby, and then Jennifer wrapped the third sandwich to take home.

“For breakfast,” she said, and they drove back to the trailer and went to bed.

Here’s what I see:

A mother who has now squirted out FIVE kids – with the first one at a mere 18 years old – with a low-paying job and apparently no father for a second source of income. FIVE children, with the last one having been born less than a year ago. I would guess that a box of condoms is less expensive than supporting yet another hungry mouth. But no. Apparently, it’s OK to keep pumping out babies you can’t afford, because the government will provide free lunches.

Donuts, candy, sodas, chips, pre-made sandwiches. This is what this woman feeds her children for dinner.

Pardon me, but with nearly $600 per month in food stamps, one could get the following, which would easily last the entire month or even longer. I will note that these products would be purchased at WalMart here in Arlington, VA, where food prices are ostensibly higher. But I needed an idea of how much could be purchased with $600, so I used this particular service as a comparison of how much I would need to spend to feed a family of six for a month, using fairly nutritious foods, and not crap.

Here is the entire grocery receipt from WalMart:


As you can see, this is a grocery cart that includes everything from milk (powdered, but it’s milk) to juice, to easy-to-prepare meals, to canned veggies, rice, cereal, mashed potatoes, tuna fish and fruit snacks.

Ideal? Probably not.

But it’s more nutritious than donuts and chips, and much more filling. It requires some preparation, and it’s something the teenagers could easily prepare while mom is at work! But no… they would much rather sit around and watch DVDs.

Oh, and she has more than $130 left, which she could use for an occasional treat – dessert, pizza, whatever…

It can be done – with a little ingenuity and some help on the part of the children.

But no… the bus brings “free” food.

And it’s much easier to have “free food” brought to you than it is to make it work with what you have.

So what are we doing here?

Frankly, I don’t care if 1/1000th of a penny of my taxes goes to feed hungry kids. It’s not the amount. It’s what that tiny fraction of a penny is paying for. It’s paying for perpetual dependence. It’s paying for generations without a work ethic, the will or the ability to make do. It’s paying for someone who doesn’t see a problem with bringing five kids into this world without a proper job, knowing she would be unable to support them without government assistance.

And if the handouts continue, so will the generational dependence.

That’s what my tax dollars are paying for, and by all accounts, the problem is getting worse, not better!

My parents worked menial jobs, and they worked hard until they knew enough English to improve their lot. We moved to a better apartment – this one without roaches – but I still wore clothing from other people’s trash, and I still didn’t know what a donut was.

And guess what! We made it! Without dependence on the state, and without handouts.

So, no. I don’t like my tax dollars rewarding parental FAIL on this scale, and you shouldn’t either.



33 responses

  1. To this day I can’t eat chicken drumsticks because that was the cheapest protein and the only meat we could afford when we came to the US. I shared a room with my brother until I was 17, I never had my own TV (our first couple of family TVs were from the bountiful Brooklyn trash piles too!!).. And we WALKED a mile to the store. The USSR only let us keep $90 / person when we left the country. My dad walked around NYC for a few days, with leads and referrals from friends, until he found a job. When we became eligible for welfare, my parents refused to apply because they did not want to become dependent on the government pittance.
    5 years after we came to the US, my parents had a business, bought a house, and I finally had my own room.
    Pity?! for able-bodied, English-speaking adults? I have less than zero.


  2. Your story is like so many before we started handing out money and making people dependent on government. We have made self-reliance and self-responsibility on yourself, family along with your community and replaced it with government handouts.


  3. THIS!!! We came here from PR, and the six of us were in a two bedroom apartment in the really bad part of town while my dad worked long hours to get enough to put a down payment on a house. And then he worked overtime, as much as he could, to get us off welfare. And NOT ONCE did we starve. Like you, I had no idea what soda or ice cream was, and I was just fine.

    This social engineering has been a failure, and I don’t see any hope for stopping the disaster.


  4. You heartless b&^%$ .. 😉
    You hit the point squarely ..
    My daughter is on assistance because she didn’t know where babies came from and she was irresponsible and lost her job.
    I’m disgusted at the amount of assistance given her and the lack of controls on how it’s used. She won’t have food or gas at the end of the month .. but she’ll have her crab legs, chips, soda and other worthless food items and her cell phone bill covered at the beginning.
    The government is so oblivious to the waste, the dependencies, the sense of entitlement they’re creating in the assistance programs.
    Yet when I lost my job .. when I fought for over a year to keep my home, food on the table, maintain my health … I didn’t qualify for squat .. yet my tax dollars are paying for these losers ..
    Then .. there’s the illegals … we need to wake up.


    1. AND .. now that she has a decent paying job .. there going to continue giving her benefits for an additional 6 months .. WTH !!


    2. I’ve a suspicion that they’re not oblivious to the situation at all. They’re TRYING to create dependence. Dependence = Votes = Power.

      Just my $0.02 worth….


  5. Bravo! Saw that article today and heckled the liberals in the comment section for a while, but they’re too numerous and common sense just bounces off of them.


    1. Oh, there are comments??? I didn’t even see!


  6. While I was BORN in the US (a month and 10 days after Pearl Harbor), we, too were poor as churchmice for most of my life–until I got out on my own. My father had to quit school in the Depression to help feed HIS parents’ family and went back to night school at his own expense and graduated HS a week before I did. Not ONCE did my parents even THINK about “government assistance.” My father wouldn’t even apply for his VA benefits, believing that, even though he’d served in the Navy throughout WW II, such benefits should be reserved for those who actually saw combat, and he hadn’t. The only VA benefit he EVER received was applied for by ME–a flag to drap his coffin when he died at age 85 in 2003. I also have the 48-star flag that draped HIS father’s coffin when he died in 1956 at the age of 60, having served throughout WW I. We ate a lot of “main meals” of bread (or, for a treat, toast) smothered in liver gravy since liver was about a dime a pound in those days. I attended Jr. Hi. with 2 pair of powder-blue jeans and 4 white t-shirts, tennis shoes


    1. My father wouldn’t even apply for his VA benefits, believing that, even though he’d served in the Navy throughout WW II, such benefits should be reserved for those who actually saw combat, and he hadn’t.

      I’ve had the privilege of meeting a number of men who shared your father’s views on this while working at the VA during my medical residency. I particularly recall one elderly gentleman becoming tearful as he told me he felt he “did not deserve” the care he was getting as he had “only” served and not seen combat, feeling as if he were taking from others. But between his serious illness and impecunity (no private insurance either) his family finally persuaded him to sign up. Something like this happened often enough that I eventually developed a stock (though deeply sincere) answer to the effect of “You’ve already more than paid with your service. Now it’s our turn to try and pay some of that back to you, sir.”

      Later that year I was back at Major Academic Hospital when a bogus transfer (a “dump” from a smaller regional hospital disguised as “patient needs MAH-level facilities we don’t have a SRH” — which turned out to be untrue) came in. The elderly woman was accompanied by over half a dozen relatives. Within 30 min of admission they were running the poor nurses and MAs ragged. I got called in at dinner time to deal with the family who were demanding full dinner trays for eleven (more had come in just prior to dinner), because “We paying for this!” (Which in fact they weren’t, as it later turned out. And they expected the dinner trays for free, snorting disdain at the idea of going to the cafeteria like visitors for other patients.) I couldn’t help but think of what a vast cultural gap lay between those fine men at the VA and the mentality of the people yelling at me because they weren’t getting enough of a handout.


  7. Bravo Zulu, Nicki. (Again.)


  8. John $ Dough.

    Yeah lets blame the illegals, because they are the ones ruining the country.


    1. Dude, are you a retard? Where did I mention illegals? And since when are illegals eligible for EBT?


    2. I mentioned the illegals .. and if you don’t think they are getting public assistance you need to wake up. I challenge you .. drop into a medicaid office sometime …


      1. Ah… There was no way to tell to whom he was talking when I was checking it on my phone, and I hadn’t seen your other comment. The illegals are not eligible for SNAP and those types of programs, as far as I know, which is what I was discussing in this particular post. But yes… although it’s another topic altogether.


        1. Yeah .. Nicki .. and after I hit post I thought .. shoot she’s going to think my curt comment was directed at her …
          actually my daughter works in a social services office .. illegals may not be “eligble” … but they’re getting the aid.


        2. Nah, it didn’t even occur to me! The phone just puts comments one after another, so I was completely confused as to whom he was talking to.


  9. The USSR was so terrible because it was a failed socialistic state.

    Here we are as a country following the same path to destruction, with people that are less able to survive than those in the USSR.

    I don’t know about you, but the thought of the future of many people is horrifying.


  10. Well said. I have lots of stories of growing up Yankee poor in rural northern New England. But we ate healthy (certainly not luxuriously, mostly vegetarian), grew lots of our own food, traded for some, and worked like hell for the rest. I don’t remember a summer since I was 8 that I didn’t have a job, and I and my younger brother cooked, cleaned and did laundry around the house, chopped wood, weeded the garden, etc., etc. Our public clothes were not dirty, never new, often mended, never fashionable and always from thrift stores. Lots of home-made sweaters and jeans. Luxuries were new socks and underwear for birthdays and Christmas.

    My father – having served in the USAF and been discharged as a Captain, got his Master’s degree and became a teacher for almost 10 years – in the late 70s/early 80’s, made the princely sum of $9K/year. Summers were spent as caretaker/lifeguard/swimming instructor at the local resort lake, with days off spent digging graves. (Some seriously weird stories there….) Often picked strawberries and blueberries on local farms. Winters, he and my mother taught Nordic skiing after school and on weekends. Mom baked and sold bread, canned and froze anything plant-based that could be eaten, fostered numerous kids and kept an eye on half the neighbor’s kids. Fall, we picked apples for local orchards. I think it was 5 cents/bushel….

    Dad rode an ancient Honda CB350 motorcycle to school to save gas money, 15 miles each way, reverting to car only from mid-December to mid-February, in central Maine. Rebuilt the engine 3 times, IIRC. When he finally sold it before we moved, both fenders were completely hand-fabricated sheet-metal replacements of the originals, long since rusted out by road salt.

    Didn’t even know what cable TV was until I was 16 (1985, and it didn’t reach to our end of the sticks, even if we could have afforded it). Non-party-line phones about the same time.

    Lots more, but you get the picture. We were American, healthy, working poor. In my early teens, I lived for a while in Central Africa, and learned what true poverty was…. and that I was rich beyond measure.


  11. Those tennis shoes I mentioned above were given to me by the school because I was on the basketball team. At the end of the season, we were allowed to keep our game shoes–which I kept and wore for everyday until the end of the next season when I was given a “newer” pair. They were pretty good shoes, too–usually Converse. Sometimes I outgrew them before the “new” ones were available for everyday wear. I didn’t own a coat for two years in Central Indiana until one of my grandmothers found out and bought me a “jean jacket” for Christmas–which I wore until I graduated HS. The school bus driver would keep the seat behind him open so I could sit near the heater. Since I was the school “Jock”, playing Football Basketball and Track and Field, I often had to walk, run or hitchhike home from school because I had to stay for practices or games until long after the buses had completed their routes. Dad gave up a second job so he and Mom could go to my games, which they only rarely missed, even though they had to pay a couple of dollars to attend, the extra money lost delayed the completion of his 1,100 square foot “dream house”, every nail of which he hammered himself.


  12. These hardships folks grew up with, experienced. What end came of the experience. The fortitude to bear on, to improve, to learn long suffering, to succeed beyond odds? In other words the American way .. the American dream … what are we teaching these dreamers .. looking at America today sometimes I pray for an early death …


  13. Peter McCollum

    Poignant and intense. You have a new reader!


    1. Thank you and welcome!


  14. Peter McCollum

    I think the entitlement mentality first saw rise in the 80s when the middle class widened significantly and families who may have only been a notch above the poverty line were soon able to have a Nintendo in their home. From there, however, it literally became a matter of “Keeping up with the Joneses.” All of a sudden it became some kind of strange neglect to deny your child absolute uniformity with what the other kids had, all the while parents ran up credit card bills they knew they could never pay off. Absolutely bizarre.

    Now we have a different kind of entitlement mentality that reaches all the way down to the poorest of the poor: “I am alive. Give me stuff for free.” Absolutely perplexing how that works.

    I lived in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for a brief period of time following my discharge from the Army and saw firsthand how entitlement culture operates. While I was in school there I worked the graveyard shift at a gas station. I was very shocked to see person after person in very expensive clothes and a nice vehicle all using an EBT card for chips and soda. I even heard about how small communes of leeches had been formed, where they pooled together all of their benefits, often spliced with drug money, and lived remarkably well in spite of not a soul being gainfully employed.

    Furthermore, that gas station was desperate to hang on to employees. People out there would literally get a job for a few days so that they could buy something that welfare would not cover…

    SO… if people are clever enough to discover these ins and outs of the system, why not take that to a place of employment? Imagine how much drastically your situation would improve!

    Of course, there are those who use their fecundity as either a toy or a means to an end, but I think that is for a separate discussion.


    1. True. Somewhere on-line there’s a photocopy of a grocery receipt someone found in a supermarket parking lot showing someone bought 4 Porterhouse steaks and 6 whole lobsters and paid for them with an EBT card. The tab was about $111.00, if memory serves.


  15. Without a doubt the most concise and refreshing treatise on the subject ever. It’s been forwarded to all friends and family. Thank you!


  16. Safe to say you crushed it out of the park this one, hon. Well done.


  17. A refreshing viewpoint on one of my personal pet peeves.

    Many thanks for an articulate and much-needed post…


  18. As to the illegals ..
    If they have US born children .. the children qualify for all benefits .. including SNAP, Housing, Cell phone, utilities …
    Of course the checks in the name of the parent …


    1. …which applies of the mother goes into labor in Mexico, but walks across the border and actually gives BIRTH on U.S. soil.


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