Ottawa resident Lucy Menjivar is 28, has a full-time job as a receptionist at a medical clinic and two weeks ago, for the first time in her life, she visited a food bank.

Menjivar is a single mother with a five-year-old son. She said she came up with what she thought was a realistic budget on her $17.75/hour salary, which amounts to about $37,000 a year before taxes.

"I'm finding there's some months where with the bills, I'm barely scraping by paying them," said Menjivar. 

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Lucy Menjivar said she made her first trip to a food bank two weeks ago. (CBC)

Every month she said she pays $1,200 in rent for a two-bedroom townhouse, pays $100 a month in hydro costs, and spends $50 every 10 days to fill up her car.

Her annual salary places her just below middle class, according to Statistics Canada, but she said she is working towards a better financial stature.

Food bank use on the rise

She said she's trying her best to stay out of debt, but has had to rely on her credit card to pay for some essentials and recently called the local Barrhaven food bank when she was faced with the choice of paying the hydro bill or buying groceries.

"I never thought I would have come to the decision of going to the food bank," Menjivar said.

A national study from Food Banks Canada found 882,000 Canadians used a food bank in March 2012, and said usage across Canada was up 31 per cent since the start of the 2008 recession.

And here in Ottawa, high debt loads, higher home values and cost of living increases that have outpaced wage increases mean that some people with full-time work say they're feeling the pinch.

The average hourly wage in Ottawa and Gatineau was $26.60 in September 2009, and is now $27.40, a total increase of about three per cent over three years. The national Consumer Price Index has risen six per cent over the same time.

Food bank reliance growing

"More and more people can't make things meet at the end of the month," said Peter Tilley, executive director of the Ottawa Food Bank.

He said 48,000 people rely on the food bank every month, and said many new clients have recently lost higher-paying jobs and are having trouble getting by.

Ken Lee picked up Menjivar's call and arranged for her to pick up an emergency package of food to bring back to her home in Barrhaven.

Lee said he's making more emergency deliveries lately, and to surprising neighbourhoods.

"I was very surprised I'm visiting newer neighbourhoods," said Lee. "Half Moon Bay, Stonebridge … It's new housing and pretty good housing that people are coming to us for food assistance."