Mom Backed for Shoplifting Daughter's Birthday Present: 'Sucks Being Poor'

A mother of a 4-year-old is being supported after saying she felt awful about shoplifting a pair of shoes her daughter needed for her birthday.

The original poster (OP), u/jellybean10133, shared her story to the Reddit forum r/Antiwork, earning over 29,100 upvotes and 4,100 comments in nine hours for her post, "It sucks being poor. I had to shoplift shoes for my daughter because after paying rent, I was left with nothing leftover."

She opens by saying she's "tired and venting into the void." The OP says she's got a minimum wage job in retail, and isn't able to make ends meet. She makes too much money to qualify for federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—but she does qualify for the USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

However, her rent has increased $200 to $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment—which she says has a constant problem with ants and cockroaches. Her job doesn't have stable hours, preventing her from finding a second job. Her child's father owes over $6,000 in child support—but he's in jail and OP doubts she'll get any of that money.

Last week was her daughter's 4th birthday. Though she was able to afford a box of cake mix and frosting, she couldn't afford any presents, due to the rent increase—plus her water and electric bills and groceries that weren't covered by the WIC program.

"Do you know how s**tty I felt? Not being able to get my kid any presents on her birthday? I felt f**king awful and like the worst parent on earth," u/jellybean10133 wrote.

Her daughter is also outgrowing her shoes, telling OP that they're "pinchy" and that it "hurts her to wear them."

OP said she had her first day off in 10 days, and after rent and the utilities were paid for, she had under $30 left in her banking account to pay for the week's groceries.

"I thought f**k it, I'll stroll around Target to kill some time because being in my apartment just makes me feel depressed that I'm paying $1500 a month for a s**t box that's constantly got ants and roaches popping up," she wrote.

While at Target, she found the a pair of unicorn shoes that would be perfect for her daughter. Even though she couldn't afford them, she put the shoes in her cart and covered them with her purse, saying that she "felt sick to her stomach" doing so. She paid for her other items—pull-up diapers and a frozen pizza for dinner—and wasn't caught.

"I still feel guilty a day later but the way my daughter's face lit up when I gave her the new shoes was priceless. She was so happy. She thanked me over and over again. She didn't put up a fit this morning going to daycare because her shoes didn't hurt," u/jellybean10133 wrote.

"I still feel bad about it. But it's f**king hard right now. I have $11 in my bank account for gas until next payday. I just want to give my kid the best life possible. I'm tired of struggling. I know I'm not the only person in this situation. I've applied to so many other, hopefully better paying jobs, I want to go back to school and get a degree. My kid deserves better than a mom who shoplifts to make ends meet. I'm just wanting things to get better sometime soon," she continued.

mother shoplifting shoes poverty poor sucks reddit
A mother is being supported online after telling her story of having to steal shoes from Target for her daughter's birthday. iStock/Getty

Programs like SNAP—better known as "food stamps"—and TANF exist to help families in need, but the programs are often in need of funding. Former President Donald Trump's budget in 2017 cut $150 billion from SNAP, and in 2020, Senate Republicans blocked a proposal to boost SNAP's funding by 15 percent, with then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying Trump "indicated" he would not sign the bill if it were passed.

Even without budget problems, 25 percent of people eligible for SNAP do not participate due to the complicated process of applying for benefits, according to Snap to Health. And Ginger Zielinskie, former CEO of Benefits Data Trust, told Newsweek in 2017 that many people don't even know they're eligible. While SNAP is a federal program, some states have made it more difficult to get the benefits with added stipulations.

In 2021, the number of people drawing SNAP benefits fell from 14 percent in 2020 to 8 percent. While the decrease was due to people returning to work after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, food banks said that more help was definitely needed.

"There are people going back to work, but it's slow going and God forbid you should need a car repair or something," Carmen Cumberland, president of Community Harvest Food Bank in Fort Wayne, Indiana, told the Associated Press.

Reddit took the young mother's side.

"I get it. My mom had these struggles. I vowed to never let my son have the upbringing me and my siblings had. It's HARD. I'm anti-corporate america but I'm also f**king good at it and would love to give you resume/cover letter help if you would like it. At least to help you find something that helps you with the bills more. Feel free to ask, any time if you would like it," u/VeryStickyPastry offered.

"Don't feel bad for the shoes. It's Target, not an independent corner shop. They won't even notice that it's gone. You're a great mom and I'm sorry you're going through this," u/L_Gobetti added.

"I used to work for the human services department/ income support. If your hours fluctuate and your rent raised maybe try applying for SNAP again? Provide maybe 2 months of check stubs to show that the income you may have received one pay period is not always indicative of actual pay. Shelter expenses and childcare expenses are typically taken into account when determining what you can be approved,also state guidelines can be found on the internet so maybe see how you can work that out to be approved? No shame in getting the help you need you and your daughter deserve a good life. Also don't give up on looking for a better job opportunity. You can do it!" u/stealurturts wrote.

"you didn't hurt target, please don't feel so guilty. you did right," u/TouchLife2567 wrote. "for future reference though, target has a one of the best retail loss prevention teams. they will watch and build a case if you were ever to steal again. please be careful. you are a good mom <3 your daughter needs you."

Newsweek reached out to u/Jellybean10133 for comment.

Update 8/3, 7:15 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that Ginger Zielinskie is now the former CEO of Benefits Data Trust; she held the position of CEO in 2017 when she spoke with Newsweek.