British Columbia

'I hope I don't have to be here for long': What it's like to rely on a food bank

Many users of the food banks in the lower mainland had never anticipated that they would be depending on the social support network — and they are grateful for the work that's being done.

Many food bank users never anticipate needing the support, and are grateful it's there

Only an hour after opening on a recent day, 150 people were at this Surrey Food Bank. Some were inside picking items, but many more were lined up outside. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Food bank use is at a record high in the province — but making the decision to actually go to one can be hard.

According to Laura Lansink, executive director of Food Banks BC, many of the real people behind the numbers have been hit by hard times, like losing a job or falling behind on the bills — problems that can happen to anybody.

"[They're] your neighbours. [They're] people who are working one, two or three jobs to make ends meet," she said.

"People come to the end of the month and they have a choice — they can either pay their rent, or possibly pay their hydro bill — or they can buy food for their families. And as we know, you've got to have the heat on, and you've got to have a home."

The CBC's Anne Penman visited food banks across the lower mainland, and spoke with some of the people on the receiving end of the service.​ Here are their stories.


"I came here because I am a single mom with two kids and I live in low-income housing, and it's really helpful with diapers and formula — especially when you have a new baby.

"It's been six months since I had to go on income assistance, and I was on EI before. I've always had work, and I never had to be in a situation where I had to use community resources. It's been very helpful.

"The first time I came here, I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect. But everybody here is really helpful, and it's just nice to have the support that's needed.

"In the future I see myself hopefully getting a job and being able to help support the food bank."


"We were newcomers a year ago ... and it was so great to know about the food bank. As a newcomer, you deal with so many difficulties. We have two adorable kids, two boys — they're amazing.

"As parents, there's always a concern, what kind of food you're going to access [for your kids]. You have your savings, but then you see your savings are just kind of leaving your pocket.

"We came to the food bank as users ... and it was such a great blessing."


"I have three kids, a fourth on the way. We had to move a bunch of times and our finances got messed up, because I'm on disability.

"I've been coming here for about a month. Before that, I didn't need to use it.... That sucks.

"I have mental health issues and some physical issues, like hands and knees problems. I was working in sheet metal ... but at the time lots of people didn't really care with safety precautions, and we weren't supplied with that stuff — and I am suffering from that.

"The first time I came here I was kind of feeling awkward, I didn't really want to have to be here. I didn't need to be here, but because of our circumstances, it was rent or eating. And luckily ... it's a lot nicer than I thought it was going to be.

"I hope I don't have to be here for long, but I will still give back regardless — and hopefully everyone else does too."


"​I come to the food bank to get some extra food ... people think there aren't a lot of low-income people here in North Vancouver, but ... there are a lot of us — an awful lot of us. And most of us are very involved in our community as well to try to make it better for other seniors.

"I never thought that I would be 70 years old and have to go to the food bank. Never in my life. I come from an upper middle class family, I raised three sons on my own, I worked, and I worked hard. But I did not ever think it would come to the point where I would have to use the food bank, and here I am.

"I have friends who come here as well as me ... they're all in their 80s now, and they never thought they'd have to come to the food bank as well."

On December 2nd, CBC British Columbia will be hosting a food drive and open house in support of the 99 food banks across the province.

With files from Anne Penman