A young Ottawa mother struggling to pay her bills and feed her son is receiving a surprise Christmas gift from another family that had a similar experience seven years ago.

WATCH | The CBC's Judy Trinh catches up with the Lees family and Lucy Menjivar starting on CBC TV News at 5 p.m., as the Ottawa mother opens her Christmas hamper from the family.

Lucy Menjivar, 28, shared her story as part of CBC Ottawa's Working Poor series in October. Menjivar is a single mother who works as a medical receptionist earning $18 per hour.

This past fall, she was forced to use the food bank for the first time to help feed herself and her five-year-old son, Cesar.

Every month she said she has to pay $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 of about $37,000 places her just below middle class, according to Statistics Canada, but she said she is working towards a better financial stature.

Family faced similar struggle

After her story aired, the Lees family said they wanted to help because in 2005 they were struggling to choose between feeding themselves and paying their hydro bill.


Lucy Menjivar, 28, received a surprise Christmas hamper from an Ottawa family who wanted to help her. (CBC)

At the time, Jay and Leslie Lees had just moved to Ottawa with their two children, Anna and Jaycie.

"We were struggling, very bad. For Christmas, that year, all we got the kids was plates, toy plates, little toy plates," said Jay Lees. "We were struggling to put food on the table at that point."

The Lees family set aside more than $200, which they might have used to spend on Christmas presents, to create a hamper of gifts for Menjivar.

Hamper includes common household items

The hamper included gift certificates and household products such as paper towels, laundry soap, body wash, snacks and other items that one might find a luxury if they're pinching pennies.

"It makes me feel happy because I know that even though I'm not getting as much presents, I'm helping someone else on Christmas get what they need," said Anna Lees, now 10 years old.

The family's in-laws also contributed to the package, which the family wrapped. The CBC's Judy Trinh delivered to Menjivar.


The Lees family filled a laundry basket full of household items to help Menjivar purchase gifts for her five-year-old son. (CBC)

"I"m very surprised and it's emotional because you don't expect, I didn't expect kindness or any kind of reaction to my story. I just wanted to show it to everybody," said Menjivar.

"It's great to feel that somebody out there, too, has been in my situation and is willing to help."

Menjivar said she has not had to use the food bank in the past couple months because she has picked up extra shifts at work. Her co-workers also gave her a small Christmas gift to help out, she said.

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