People on SNAP aren't who you think. Case in point, this hard-working couple.
Gideon and Lina Ramirez are college-educated, employed parents of three kids. They’re also living on food stamps.
“We’re a happy family of five,” says Lina. She works part-time from home as a graphics designer while Gideon is in his last year at Sidney Kimmel Medical College in Philadelphia.
“He’s training to be an emergency room doctor,” says Lina proudly. “If anyone can do it, it’s him. He’s probably the most calm and cool-headed person on the planet.”
The pair met by chance while living in California. “We just kind of bumped into each other in the neighborhood,” says Lina.
The two began spending more time together, until life intervened and they had to part ways. However, not long after, Gideon got into Brigham Young, and they found themselves back in the same state again rekindling their romance. Soon they were married, and shortly after that, their first daughter, Eugenia, was born.
“When my first one came, I could still do full-time,” says Lina. “I was living in Utah with family, and my mother and father were kind enough to really help out.”
But then their son, Sebastian, was born around the same time that Gideon got into medical school, and their situation became exponentially more difficult.
Gideon was offered a spot at Thomas Jefferson University, so the family relocated. “When we moved to Philadelphia, I didn’t have any friends or family there,” says Lina. “It was a lot harder to find childcare for two, so I decided to work part-time from home.”
But with two kids, a part-time job, and a husband in medical school, Lina’s life began to get hectic.
Gideon’s full schedule of classes, training, and studying made it impossible for him to maintain a job. Lina found herself caring for two children and trying to support her family on a part-time salary. Time was short and money was tight. “If I had a way to clone myself, then we would have been fine,” she jokes. “But I just didn’t have enough hours in a day.”
Lina with her baby daughter. Photo via Lina Ramirez.
After their third child, Margot, was born, the Ramirezes were forced to admit that they needed help.
Lina realized that she wasn’t going to be able to raise their three children, maintain their household, and sustain five people financially. So the family applied for food assistance.
At first, Lina was hesitant. “I was afraid of what people might think. I was afraid of what I would think [of] myself,” she says. “I was just kind of embarrassed.”
Eventually, she realized that food assistance was a perfectly respectable solution — and the best way to allow Gideon to finish medical school on schedule and go back to working full-time. “Gideon was like, ‘you know, we really can’t do it on our own,’” says Lina. “And it was only for a little bit, because he’s almost done with school. So that’s when we decided.”
They applied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and their case was approved and they were granted a food assistance card.
Now, Lina has time to raise her kids as best she can — which includes cooking with the groceries she buys with her SNAP benefits.
“Margot and I go grocery shopping once a week,” Lina says. “I have so many bags because I make everything from scratch.” Her cooking includes a combination of her native Hispanic food and her husband’s Hawaiian fare. SNAP benefits allow her to purchase whole foods and ingredients.
“Being on these food stamps gives me the time to be able to know what I’m feeding my children.”
It also helps her be a better mom for her kids. “It’s really brought balance to the house,” Lina says. “They need me! They’re so little, they’re my priority. I still work part-time and try to squeeze in my adult life while they’re sleeping. But it’s less stressful.”
Lina’s no longer embarrassed about using food stamps — and she is adamant that no one else should be either.
“When you meet with your caseworker, they realize that you’re in need. They’re not judging you,” she says.
Lina knows that there’s still a stigma associated with people who use food stamps, but it doesn’t concern her. “They’re not on there because they’re lazy. They’re on there because they’re in need.”
Food stamps allow Lina to care for her children while Gideon finishes his education. The program isn’t holding them back — it’s helping them get ahead.
Gideon is almost done with medical school, and the family will move again when he gets his hospital assignment in March. Lina’s biggest challenge is no longer struggling to feed her kids — it’s helping them get ready for the future. Right now she’s working on explaining their upcoming move to Eugenia, who will be starting kindergarten next fall.
"I say to her, 'Honey, there’s a chance that we might not be here [in Philadelphia], but you’ll get to meet new friends and go somewhere new,'" says Lina. “And she’s just like, ‘Okay, in that case I wanna move to Disney World!’”
Though Eugenia’s plans might be a little overly optimistic, the Ramirezes are undeniably looking forward to a bright, independent future.
“I think everyone who goes onto the food stamp program is hoping for their situation to change, and is working toward that,” says Lina. “We just need a little bit of help to get us past that challenge.”