Before Wendy McClintic began using the food bank, she would often go a day or more without eating so that she could save whatever she had in the fridge for her young son.
"Really you don't think about yourself. You think about your child. So that kind of overrides your hunger pains," said McClintic.
"And you drink a lot of water. You drink as much as you can to fill up."
In 2000, McClintic had just moved to London as a single mom with no family in town, and was trying to make ends meet using Ontario Works (OW) while awaiting approval to get on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
It wasn't enough.
"I wouldn't even get out of the bank and I'd be broke. By the time I paid my rent and bills there's nothing left."
Faced with a hungry child and an empty pantry, McClintic began using the London Food Bank and volunteering in the warehouse.
"I thought the only way I could give back would be to give my time because I don't have money. So time would be the only thing that I had lots of," she said.
McClintic used the food bank about once a month, with the hamper lasting a few days. She stretched the ingredients as far as they'd go, making large batches of food—often egg or pasta-based dishes—and filling in the gaps with meals from churches and other programs.
"It's nice to have a break not thinking about food or what you're going to eat, but yeah, you do have the rest of the month to worry about, which is difficult."
As a volunteer, McClintic supervises school and service groups who come in to the food bank to pack hampers.
She keeps an eye on volunteers to make sure they don't forget to fill the hamper fully, since every item is crucial when you're making a hamper stretch all month, she said.
McClintic also tries to counteract stereotypes about the food bank. She said school-age volunteers sometimes assume that no one they know could ever need the service, but that's not necessarily true.
"There's no one demographic. It's all walks of life, all ages, we get from the street kid to the old retired person. It could be somebody sitting beside you. It could be anybody. We all look alike. It doesn't matter what you dress like, the need's there."
'There shouldn't be the poverty there is'
McClintic's son is now grown, which means she uses the food bank far less often. But the need is still there for her from time to time, often during winter when hydro bills go up.
McClintic said Ontario needs to do more to address the underlying poverty that causes Londoners to need the food bank in the first place, and to ensure that OW and ODSP cheques keep pace with the cost of living.
"A rich country like Canada... There shouldn't be the poverty there is," she said.
According to the Middlesex-London Health Unit healthy food is still out of reach for many single parents using social assistance.
A single parent of two using OW would have to spend an estimated 27 per cent of their monthly income to afford healthy food, health unit manager Linda Stobo said in an email statement.
The health unit estimated a single parent would need another 43 per cent of their income for housing.
That leaves just 30 per cent of their income for all other expenses, including utilities, transportation, telephone, Internet and personal care.
In an earlier interview, Stobo recommended that the Ontario government ensure social assistance rates reflect the cost of rent and food.
Sounds of the Season is our month-long campaign in support of the London Food Bank. We're raising money throughout December, and hosting two live shows Dec. 1 and 12.
- CBC London Sounds of the Season
- Help people. Win prizes. Make cool things. Introducing CBC London's activity calendar!
Join the conversation and follow along throughout Sounds of the Season in the month of December by tagging @cbclondon and using the hashtag #cbcsotsont.