From lame dad jokes to awkward mom hugs, parents have nearly inexhaustible means to embarrass their children in front of their friends. But when I was a young teenager my mother had a surefire way to fill me with shame and dread: ask me to buy groceries using food stamps.
In the early 1980s—an era before EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards could be disguised as a debit card—food stamps took the form of easily recognized slips of colored paper. In my small town grocery store, it was all but impossible to pay for groceries without several people from my school seeing me using food stamps and discovering my family was “on welfare.” Rather than submit to that shame, I’d have preferred to go hungry.
It’s easy to dismiss such adolescent concerns, especially for adults who have never endured the awkwardness of being a kid in poverty. But for many young people from poor families, the lack of resources is a constant source of embarrassment and stress.
That’s why it’s encouraging to discover the simple, yet innovative, approach taken by a high school in Washington, North Carolina to help such students:
Administrators and the student government at Washington High School, in Washington, North Carolina, have created an anonymous, in-house shopping experience that provides underprivileged students with basic resources like food, hygienic products, school supplies and clothing. To eliminate stigma or judgment, students are able to discreetly approach a school administrator to privately take what they need from the shelves, where all items are targeted specifically to teenagers.
“If we want academics to improve, we have to make certain we’re meeting our students’ basic needs,” Misty Walker, the school principal, told The Huffington Post. “We want to strengthen our community, and schooling is just one aspect of that.”
There’s no promotion, such as flyers or announcements, done to promote the resource. Instead, administrators rely on word of mouth from students and teachers.
To access this resource, students privately inform a teacher, counselor, or administrator about their needs. A member of the school staff will then take them to shop in the pantries, all of which are located inside the school.