Claim: Photograph shows Michelle Obama serving a government funded soup kitchen meal to a person with an expensive cell phone.
REAL PHOTOGRAPH; INACCURATE DESCRIPTION
[Collected via e-mail, June 2009]
Recently Michelle Obama went to serve food to the homeless at a government funded soup kitchen.
Cost of a bowl of soup at homeless shelter: $0.00 dollars
Having Michelle Obama Serve you your soup: $0.00 dollars
Snapping a picture of a homeless person who is receiving a government funded meal while taking a picture of the first lady using his $500 Black Berry cell phone and $100.00 per month cellular service: Priceless
Origins: The above-displayed photograph is genuine, a snapshot taken on an occasion in March 2009 when Michelle Obama spent some time serving lunch to men and women at Miriam's Kitchen, a social service agency in Washington D.C., as part of the First Lady's effort to "spotlight local organizations, connect with the city and help those in need amid the economic crisis." However, all the assumptions and implications of the text accompanying this picture are incorrect or unsubstantiated. To wit:
The photograph does not depict anyone "receiving a government funded meal": Miriam's Kitchen is a privately funded organization with the goal of "providing individualized services that address the causes and
consequences of homelessness in an atmosphere of dignity and respect"; it is not government run or taxpayer funded.
A cell phone capable of capturing images (even a BlackBerry Pearl) is not necessarily a "$500 phone" with a "$100 per month cellular service." Many much more affordable options are available, including cellular providers who give free phones to low-income customers under the Lifeline assistance program. So a homeless person might very well carry a cell phone, as Scott Schenkelberg, the Executive Director of Miriam's Kitchen, observed when questioned about this photograph during an interview:
Q: Since the First Lady's visit, both your guests and your food have been the subject of some criticism within the blogosphere. For example, some critics noted that
one of your guests had a cell phone and suggested that it was inappropriate to serve free food to someone who could afford a cell phone.
A: I suspect some people don't understand how inexpensive cell phones are, or how critical they are to this population. These days, you can purchase a cell phone at 7-11 for $10, then pay for minutes as you go. Our clients have a very fragile safety net. Many of them don't have shelter and are extremely vulnerable. For them, cell phones could literally be a lifeline. If they're looking for a job, the cell phone would also be incredibly important — can you even imagine trying to apply for a job without a phone number? Cell phones simply aren't luxuries anymore. If a guest can scrape together some money to purchase a cell phone, I think that's wonderful.
The assumption that a truly homeless person wouldn't have (or couldn't afford) a cell phone is also a mistaken one. As Scott Schenkelberg noted, the ranks of the homeless served by organizations such as Miriam's Kitchen include not just the long-term, chronically homeless, but also the "newly homeless": those who had recently been getting by economically until a sudden job loss or other reversal left them with nowhere to go:
Until recently, we served mostly the chronically homeless, people who had fallen out of the economy long ago. More recently, we've been seeing more new faces, people who just fell into homelessness or other hard times. These people are generally high-functioning individuals who were hurt by the poor economy. It's very troubling to see previously self-sufficient people coming to Miriam's Kitchen in such high numbers.
Last updated: 16 June 2009
Brown, DeNeen L. "For a Day, First Lady Becomes a Lunch Lady."
Washington Post. 6 March 2009 (p. C10).
Sweet, Lynn. "Can Michelle Influence what We Eat, Too?"
Chicago Sun-Times. 6 March 2009 (p. C10).
Associated Press. "First Lady Puts Service on the Menu."
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.