When Cassandra J. Perry was 13, a physical disability prevented her from going to school.
She had a genetic connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which means that her joints are unstable, her connective tissue is weak, she’s more prone to injuries, and she has chronic pain.
When she began living alone as an adult after splitting up with her spouse, she worried about how she’d be able to grocery shop.
“Grocery shopping and food prep have become impossible on my own,” says Perry. “I can’t always get to a store, and when I can, I can’t carry my own groceries due to limitations on how much weight I’m allowed to hold and carry.”
Perry had to rely on the generosity of friends to get enough to eat.
With Supplemental Security Income (SSI) being her only source of financial support, she crowdfunded six times to have enough money to buy groceries.
She had a Patreon account for eight months. Two of her friends regularly helped her cook meals, and others invited her over for meals.
“To survive, I kept a strict budget, which I would share publicly each time I needed to crowdfund,” Perry explains. “I had to get over my pride and my fear of asking for help.”
She supplemented the crowdfunding and SSI income with money she made selling her belongings, such as clothing and books.
Perry knew this method of survival wasn’t sustainable, so she joined the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the spring of 2015.
Often known as “food stamps,” this benefit gives her $192 each month, which covers half of her overall food costs.
“Without [it], I would only be able to meet my food needs by relying on the generosity of my social network, food pantries, and food kitchens,” she says.
“Most days, I can’t physically walk around a store, even if someone is doing the carrying for me,” she says. Her friends and family help by going to the store with her, and they do the shopping while she waits in the car. She then joins them in the checkout line to pay using her benefits.
And thanks to local farmers markets, that $192 a month extends even farther.
These local markets match up to an extra $30 for healthy items, allowing her to bring home more fresh produce.
Because she’s on food stamps, Perry also qualifies for community support agriculture, where subscribers receive a regular supply of produce and other farm goods, such as in-season fruits and vegetables, eggs, meat and milk.
Since unprocessed, fresh foods tend to be more costly, her benefits and the additional incentives to buy fruits and vegetables make a significant difference.
Perry says that food pantries and kitchens tend not to have the specific kinds of healthy foods her doctor recommends as part of her treatment. This makes the fact that her food stamps give her access to more fresh produce particularly invaluable. Perry can also use her benefits to buy prepackaged and prepared (cut, chopped, diced, or peeled) produce, which she can’t get at food pantries and is easier for her since she has limited use of her hands.
Perry is grateful that she never has to make the choice between eating or paying rent.
“This provides me with a guarantee that I’ll have food to eat because I won’t have to choose between eating and paying bills,” she says. “Every last dollar I can muster is put to very good use.”
Because she is physically unable to work and lives on a limited budget, her benefits are a lifeline.
According to the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, 1 in 4 participants on food stamps have a disability that prevents them from working — just like Perry. That’s more than 11 million people. These benefits ensure they never have to make an impossible decision between going hungry or having a roof over their heads.
You can’t put a price on that kind of support.