Amy Gill's food-stamps account is empty ... and it's seven days before it will be replenished.
"I'm due for my food stamps at the 9th of the month and I don't have eggs or bread," she says in the waiting area at the Northside Common Ministries food pantry.
Each month, there is a period when her food benefits run out and she leans on the pantry to help feed her 9-year-old daughter. And while Gill does what she can to stretch the benefits — "I tend to buy more starches" — sometimes her card is tapped after a couple weeks.
And she's worried that period will only grow longer, now that her SNAP benefits have been reduced from $200 to $185.
"I try to minimize it in my head, but often it's that $15 that gets you through until next time," she says.
Gill, 41, sits at the pantry in a row of plastic folding chairs, waiting to pick up frozen meat, cereal and produce she hopes will last until the 9th. It has been an hour since she arrived and her number hasn't been called — typical on a busy Tuesday morning, says the North Side resident.
Gill has been on food stamps since she lost her full-time job seven years ago. She's been going to the food pantry for the past three.
She now works part time as a home health aide for a woman living with multiple sclerosis. Previously, Gill has done everything from janitorial work to clinical administration at doctors' offices. (She has a degree in the subject). But it was "a struggle to maintain" those jobs because of her sometimes crippling depression. "I'm seeking full-time employment, but I don't know what my chances are because of the mental-health issues," Gill says.
"It's just been a slow decline in my ability to function," she says."I still look for work in the medical field; I just can't find it." Being out of the field for 10 years, she says, has made her a less appealing job candidate.
Gill says her other daughter, a 24-year-old who has a job in sales, also struggles with food insecurity. She's "not eligible on paper" for food stamps, Gill says, but is just "eking it out." Sometimes mother and daughter stop together at Produce to People, a food-distribution program offered by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
When resources get tight, Gill often goes without food herself — especially since her SNAP benefits were cut several months ago because of confusion over her income, Gill says.
"Children don't understand why they have to ration their cereal," Gill says. "You can't just run to the store — otherwise you'll be out of food stamps immediately. You always wrestle with guilt as a parent."
And even though Gill says she's "not too proud" of being on stamps or using food banks, she adds "you can't stereotype people." Beneficiaries come from "all races," says Gill. "They're not who you think."