FACES OF HUNGER

Stories of food, love and respect.

Anne. A single mom with 6 children who wanted to give them something to eat for Christmas.

Anne is a mom who is fiercely committed to caring as best she can for her six children. She struggles to make sure they have the basics of what they need every single day. Some days that feels nearly impossible. In fact sometimes when her freezer is empty she unplugs it. She saves money on electricity and with no food in it what is the point? She tries to manage on her own as much as possible, but when she has absolutely no choice she turns to the Ottawa Food Bank and its agencies. This Christmas she came in because she had spent all her money on coats and mittens for her children and had nothing left over for Christmas. She wanted more than anything for her children to have a Christmas. Leaving with a ham, a turkey and some food gift cards she said, “I am so grateful. Thank you. My kids will have Christmas and that means the world to me.”

Wayne. Health and Nutrition is #1 for this 53 year old who tries to manage his epilepsy with as healthy a diet as he can afford.

Wayne is 53 years old, living on disability assistance and with severe epilepsy. Wayne’s mom, who recently died of cancer, convinced him that changing his diet from binges on chip and other unhealthy foods to fruit and vegetables would help him manage his epilepsy. Wayne took her words to heart and now starts every day with fruit and eats as many vegetables as he can afford. That isn’t always easy. Paying as much as $5.00 for a 4 pound bag of apples is extremely hard to do when living on a disability assistance.  He saves where he can. He had a big hole in his one pair of pants. Rather than buying a new pair, he paid $6 to have them repaired. Despite the cost the healthier diet means that Wayne can work more often and ride the bus or walk to work with less fear of a seizure. Once a month he receives fruit and vegetables from his local food program, a member agency of the Ottawa Food Bank which adds to what Wayne is able to buy for himself. Wayne also works hard on his attitude. He practices meditation. He is a singer/songwriter.

He looks forward to going in the Heron Road Food Centre walkathon. Wayne feels it is important to help others as a way of giving back to his community. “Helping others is worth more than any paycheck”.

Found the occasion to use his “niceties” again.

B was an elderly man who had come to Ottawa from a country where he had been badly tortured. The torture had had such a deep impact on him that he couldn’t speak to unfamiliar people or even look at them. When he visited his neighbourhood food program, a member agency of the Ottawa Food Bank, he was also being treated for cancer and was having a very hard time keeping food down. The Ottawa Food Bank provided tins of condensed milk and soup, which he could barely manage. While waiting for his food, B was politely offered a seat and always treated with great respect. After a few visits he was able to make eye contact. After a few more visits, he offered his hand. In broken English his wife explained, that after being torture B declared he would never use his “niceties” again. The kindness he received opened his heart and he decided he would use them again. B. died from his cancer, but did so with a little more peace in his heart.

J.P and his wife. The ground beef J.P. was able to get from the Ottawa Food Bank every month gave him the strength to get through his monthly cancer treatments.

J.P has been coming once a month for years. One day he told us that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Knowing this was going to be an especially difficult time for J.P., the people at the Ottawa Food Bank agency made sure there was always a packet of ground beef set aside for him every month. He used it to make spaghetti sauce and chili and was an expert at making it last as long as possible. J.P told them that ground beef gave him the strength to stay alive. In fact, J.P’s cancer is in remission. He credits his good health entirely to the ground beef that he recieved. To J.P, “Every spoonful of that ground beef was full of love and that love was what kept me alive.”

The Khadra Family. Gave everything they had to say, “thank you.”

The Khadra family recently came to Ottawa from Algeria with the hopes for a better life for their baby girl. Starting a new life in a new country with no family or friends, they are working as hard as they can to make a good new life. In Algeria, Imane, worked as a kindergarten teacher. She is hopeful that one day she will be able to teach again. Hakim came from a farming family and understands what hard work is all about. There are times when they have no choice but to get some help from the Ottawa Food Bank.

As a way to say thank you, they invited two members of their Ottawa Food Bank member agency team over for dinner. When the guests arrived they were completely taken aback by the emptiness of the small apartment. A very clean space, but without a stick of furniture, except a small side table and crib for the baby—no radio, no TV, no chairs, no cushions, no tables. Despite the graveness of their financial situation, the couple used the food they had received from their food program and prepared an amazing tasting dinner. It was the only way they had to say, “thank you”.

Ottawa Children Who Are Hungry and Shouldn’t Be

Thomas. 10 years old. “Sometimes I bring a lunch bag to school, even though there isn’t anything in it. I feel ashamed not have a lunch. The other kids do.”

Riley. 8 years old. “One time I saw a kid take one sip of her milk and then just leave it on her desk. I saw she wasn’t going to drink any more of it, so I had to ask her if I could have the rest of it.”

Selena. 12 years old. “ My mom works at two jobs but sometimes there isn’t enough food for us. She tries to give us food for school, but there’s never enough for all of the nutrition breaks, so I just sit and wait for it to be over.”

Owen. 9 years old. “I have breakfast at school, but on the weekends there is never enough to eat. By Monday I am really, really hungry.

Stories from Ottawa Food Bank Alumni

Laura’s Story

I am a proud food bank alumni

At 16, I did the hardest thing in my life. I left my family’s abusive home. The abuse had started years earlier but it had escalated to a point where if I didn’t leave I was going to die. So I left and was headed down a pretty scary path. Here I was: a scared, lonely, depressed kid. I didn’t really know how to care for myself. I didn’t realize how much rent is, how much a hydro bill costs, how much food costs. I was a high-school dropout, working full-time for minimum wage, alone, struggling to get by and still reeling from the effects of the abuse and rejection I had endured. My friends were typical high school kids who shouldn’t be expected to know how to deal with this kind of situation. Eventually we lost touch altogether, as we increasingly had less in common.

I first went to a food bank at the age of 17, after I found secure housing, went on social assistance and returned to high school. Poverty is hard. All you think about is whether or not you’re going to have enough food and money to get through. I remember walking an hour to the nearest food bank because I didn’t have the money to use public transit. I remember the fear and shame I felt the first time I walked through the doors of a food bank. There is a real stigma attached to having to ask for help. There’s this notion that you should be able to take care of yourself, without ever having to rely on others. I was so scared. I felt that I was being judged. By the people who worked at the food bank, by the other people using the food bank, by the random stranger who saw me go inside the food bank.

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"I quickly learned that the food bank was there to help me. No one ever judged me. I was welcomed and given support and encouragement."

In fact, the exact opposite happened. I quickly learned that the food bank was there to help me. No one ever judged me.  I was welcomed and given support and encouragement. I was able to get enough food to get by until the next month. I remember being surprised that I could choose the food I wanted to eat. I remember feeling excited and thankful whenever there was fresh produce. I remember the feeling of relief I had when I would leave the food bank. I knew that I had enough food to get through to the next welfare cheque.

I went to the food bank for many years. During that time, I finished high school, plus an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree. It was a struggle. I was still poor but I was less scared, lonely and depressed. I found a support system and built a community, which included the food bank. The food bank was part of the social network that saved my life.

Now, it is my privilege to be in a position to give back and I recently became a monthly donor.

I am a proud food bank alumni.

Michelle’s Story

My name is Michelle, and here is my story…..

About 11 years ago, my husband had injured himself at work and was unable to go back and was forced to go on WSIB. At that point, our son was a little over one year old and we had just recently moved to our new home. Things were tight and we were living pay cheque to pay cheque but we were comfortable. But with his injury, it made things really hard. WSIB took a couple of weeks to kick in and we were left with making choices that we weren’t used to making.

Our son came first more than anything, so his formula, baby food, and diapers were number one. Payment for the house was the second thing. Credit and utility bills were fine to pay late so we weren’t too worried about them at this time. But food for my husband and I was the thing we couldn’t afford. My mom was just going through a divorce and I really did not want to burden her. After all, we felt that this was a temporary setback in our life.  When we didn’t really know where to turn, the Ottawa Food Bank was there. My husband and I have never used any type of assistant before and this was new to us. We were given food. Food that my husband and I could put on our plate. We remember coming home with a box full of food and we were happy to have something to eat. That night we had opened a can of ham and we cooked rice, both provided by the Ottawa Food Bank.

Even to this day, my husband and I still talk about that night. That night, as we ate our food, we were happy. We were happy because we had each other and our wonderful baby boy. We had food that was necessary for our boy and we had shelter. And now, we had food for us. We were happy despite what life had thrown us. We were grateful that there was such thing as the Ottawa Food Bank. We only used the Food Bank once but it had made a big impact in our lives. We never forgot.

"Even to this day, my husband and I still talk about that night. That night, as we ate our food, we were happy. We were happy because we had each other and our wonderful baby boy. We had food that was necessary for our boy and we had shelter. And now, we had food for us."

We have told this story to our son and in the past when he had birthday parties, instead of receiving gifts from his friends, he would ask them to bring bags of groceries instead. When there are food drives in my husband’s work or our son’s school, our cupboards would be empty that day because we’d donate it all. We have become a big supporter of the Ottawa Food Bank because we know that there are so many people out there that could use a little helping hand. I have met so many people that have used food assistance.

To my knowledge, there is no “type” of people that uses food banks. These people are all kinds of people, people that need help temporarily or regularly. You have students that need help because they need to pay rent and school tuition is due. You have those that have recently lost their jobs and are trying to make ends meet. A mother and her children who recently escaped an abusive relationship and just wants food for her and her family. A retired person whose pension isn’t enough to live by. Whoever they are, it doesn’t matter – because the Ottawa Food Bank does not judge. The Ottawa Food Bank helps those who are in need.

My family and I have been very fortunate and although the future is never certain, it is comforting to know that there are such services as the Ottawa Food Bank. I have recently started a new business and 10% of my profit will go to the Ottawa Food Bank. I know that there are a lot of supporter for the Ottawa Food Bank, but imagine if all businesses, large or small, would donate as little as I do, imagine how much help that could give?

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