Calgary mother recalls making that hard call for help as CBC Calgary launches Food Bank Drive

The beginning of December marks the official start of the annual CBC Calgary Food Bank Drive. One Calgary mother spoke to CBC about how making the call to the food bank is the best decision she's ever made.

CBC Calgary Food Bank Drive runs until Dec. 22.

Single mother Sheryl Meier says making the call to the Calgary Food Bank to request help was one of the hardest things she's ever had to do, but the best decision she's ever made. (Meegan Read/CBC)

It's officially the beginning of December, which means the countdown to the holiday season is on. At CBC, Dec. 1 marks the start of the annual CBC Calgary Food Bank Drive.

Last year, Calgarians helped us raise $1.3 million for the Calgary Food Bank, which went to support their emergency hamper program, the milk program and a number of community support programs.

The 2016 Food Bank Drive total was a record amount for CBC Calgary, and it couldn't have happened without the generous support of CBC listeners and viewers.

One mother's story

Contributions made to last year's Food Bank Drive went to support Calgarians like Sheryl Meier.

The Calgary mother sought assistance from the food bank before her now seven-year-old son had even celebrated his first birthday, but the story that led her there goes much further back.

Meier says she bought a condo back in 2004, but by the time her son was born, condo fees at the building had almost doubled to an amount nearly equal to that of her mortgage payment.

Money that was tight to begin with, became even tighter for Meier.

"I was like, do I pay my mortgage? Do I pay my bills? Or do I buy diapers, or do I buy groceries?" Meier said. "I just didn't have enough in the bank account."

'Just make this phone call'

Meier said she was working, but not making enough money to pay off the mounting pile of bills. Looking back, she said she thinks she was also struggling with postpartum depression.

Having been born and raised in Calgary, Meier knew about the food bank and had even donated it to it several times in the past. She was desperate for a break and knew all she had to do was pick up the phone, but Meier said she felt ashamed and actually making that call was hard.

The day she finally did, she first had to talk herself into it. 

"The whole day, I stumbled — Do I call? Don't I call? Do I call?" Meier said. "And I'm like Sheryl, you're strong, you're determined. You gotta do what you have to do, just make this phone call."

Making that appointment

The woman who answered the phone was kind and compassionate, Meier said, but it was still the hardest phone call she ever made in her life. 

I was so nervous, I was second guessing myself — 'What do I do? Is this the right decision?- Sheryl Meier

Meier made an appointment with the food bank and when the day came, she started to doubt herself and wondered if she really needed help.

"I was so nervous, I was second guessing myself — 'What do I do? Is this the right decision? I'm just going to try it, it doesn't hurt to try.' And so I tried it and walked in the door," she said. 

As she stood in line, Meier said she felt like everyone was looking at her and judging, but looking back, she realizes everyone there was probably feeling the same way she did.

The entire process took about 30 minutes. Based on Meier's income, she more than qualified and was given an "unbelievable" hamper of food.

"The volunteers were amazing, the people handing out the food hampers were amazing. Everyone was just like, it's OK, this is OK." she said. "And what I was getting, I couldn't even believe it."

Making the hamper last

Among the items Meier got in her hamper were the biggest jar of peanut butter she'd ever seen in her life and a huge can of coffee.

"The most important item for us was the non-perishable food items such as graham crackers and, of course, the peanut butter — stuff I could put in my pantry, that I could ration," she said.

All the fresh produce Meier received was immediately separated and Meier turned what she could into items that could be put in the freezer for later, like soup.

Meier said she stretched out the hamper for much longer than the two weeks it was supposed to last her family.

"My mom can home cook anything and taught me to let nothing go to waste, and it didn't. It did wonders for us," she said.

'That's why these programs are here'

Trying to get someone to talk about their experience with the food bank is hard as people are reluctant to share what some think of as a "shameful" time.

Meier said it all has to do with timing and even last year, she wouldn't have been ready to talk about her experience. But now, she said she's proud of what she did to get her son and herself through what was a really hard time.

"Looking back I'm not sure why [I felt ashamed]. That's why these programs are there. It's for people in times of need, and once you've gone through it, then you really get the importance of why it's there," she said.

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Today, the single mother works full time and owns her own home in southwest Calgary. She and her son are busy, happy and healthy and Meier is thankful the food bank was there when she needed it.

Important to give back

"I've made it my most important mission that my son knows the importance of giving back," she said. "I'm so grateful for them being there for my son and I, and I"m so grateful that we can give back," she said.

Her advice for others who might find themselves in a similar situation is to not be afraid.

"Do what you have to do for your family and remember it's going to be OK," she said.

Meier's story is just one behind the 65,000 hampers the Calgary Food Bank gives out every year. 

For anyone wanting to help out this year, there are a number of ways to get involved; you can volunteer your time, your money or your food.

Visit the Calgary Food Bank website to find out how.