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Show me your (real and metaphoric) safety net

A woman hangs from a trapeze at Gaona’s Trapeze Workshop in Southern California.

Mercedes Gallup(left) with Richie Gaona; the owner of Gaonas Trapeze Workshop in Woodland Hills, CA.

What does your safety net look like? What has caught you when you've stumbled -- or helped you feel financially secure enough to take a leap? Today, we launch an occasional series we're calling Show Me Your Safety Net.  In this first installment, we meet Mercedes Gallup. 

This is not the first time Mercedes Gallup has exposed a part of her safety net. She still remembers the stares she would get, 20-years ago, when she would pull out her food stamps at the grocery store. 

“Back then you held up the line when you were using food stamps,” she remembers.  “They had to check everything and they were paper -- it was like a little book of Disneyland cards.

Sometimes, Gallup says she would feel judged. “But I had to feed my kid,” she says. “So I'll hold up the line all day. I was a single mom, I was in nursing school, and had a job. And it just was not enough to cover food.”

But in the three years that Gallup was on food stamps, they didn’t just help her cover food. Gallup says  they provided her a safety net that allowed her to take risks she otherwise wouldn’t have taken. Risks she believes have paid off. 

Now, she is a public health nurse at a state college in Southern California, with a good salary and benefits, which provided her another kind of safety net, when she had breast cancer a few years ago. Gallup has recovered. And these days, she has the time and money to take new risks.

You see, Mercedes Gallup uses yet a third kind of safety net now. A literal one. Because when she’s not working, she is a trapeze artist. Her coworkers call her “The Flying Nurse.”

One recent morning, I went to the Trapeze School in Woodland Hills, CA, where she trains.  I watched her fly through the air. Sometimes she'd do somersaults.  Sometimes, she'd miss, and fall. But she was always ok. The net caught her.

After her last trick, once she’d climbed out of the net, she mentioned in passing that even though her old food stamps have long expired, she still has some -- $65 worth.  She keeps them in an envelope with other important papers. 

“I definitely have a healthy respect for the net,” Gallup tells me.  Literal, and metaphoric.

Up next in our series:  Krissy Clark gets a crash course in safety nets real and metaphoric....when she learns to fly on a trapeze.

 

About the author

Krissy Clark is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

Mercedes Gallup(left) with Richie Gaona; the owner of Gaonas Trapeze Workshop in Woodland Hills, CA.

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