The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Features

July 8, 2014

This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps

HARTFORD, Conn. — Sara Bareillis played softly through the surround-sound speakers of my husband's 2003 Mercedes Kompressor as I sat idling at a light. I'd never been to this church before, but I could see it from where I was, across from an old park, abandoned in the chilly September air. The clouds hung low as I pulled the sleek, pewter machine into the lot. But I wasn't going to pray or attend services. I was picking up food stamps.

Even then, I couldn't quite believe it. This wasn't supposed to happen to people like me.

I grew up in a white, affluent suburb, where failure seemed harder than success. In college, I studied biology and journalism. I worked for good money at a local hospital, which afforded me the opportunity to network at journalism conferences. That's how I landed my first news job as an associate producer in Hartford, Conn. I climbed the ladder quickly, free to work any hours in any location for any pay. I moved from market to market, always achieving a better title, a better salary. Succeeding.

2007 was a grand year for me. I moved back home from San Diego, where I'd produced "Good Morning San Diego." I quickly secured my next big gig, as a producer in Boston for the 6 p.m. news. The pay wasn't great, but it was more than enough to support me. And my boyfriend was making good money, too, as a copy editor for the Hartford Courant.

When I found out I was pregnant in February 2008, it was a shock, but nothing we couldn't handle. Two weeks later, when I discovered "it" was actually "they" (twins, as a matter of fact), I panicked a little. But not because I worried for our future. My middle-class life still seemed perfectly secure. I just wasn't sure I wanted to do that much work.

The weeks flew by. My boyfriend proposed, and we bought a house. Then, just three weeks after we closed, the market crashed. The house we'd paid $240,000 for was suddenly worth $150,000. It was OK, though - we were still making enough money to cover the exorbitant mortgage payments. Then we weren't.

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