Food bank brought comfort, belonging to immigrant family

Business owner Lina Shamoun was 14 when her family emigrated to Canada from Iraq. The family of seven had little money, and her parents struggled to make ends meet, relying on help from The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. Now Shamoun says she wants to give back.
Lina Shamoun and her family relied on food assistance through The Food Bank of Waterloo Region when she first arrived in Canada from Iraq at age 14. (Submitted by The Food Bank of Waterloo Region)

Lina Shamoun was 14 when her family emigrated from Iraq to Canada. With little money and a family of seven, her parents struggled to make ends meet, relying on help from The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

"It was just recently that I realized how much help it was," said Shamoun, now 31 and owner of a small business. 

Shamoun's family received food hampers, ensuring she and her four siblings had full bellies when they headed out the door to school. She said she was never entirely sure where the food was coming from, but she didn't press her parents for information, instead dedicating her time to learning English and making friends. 

"I didn't question, it would just show up in a box and we would do our thing." 

Still, Shamoun said knowing there would be a meal waiting when she got home brought a sense of comfort, and even belonging, to her family. 

"It was going to be okay no matter what," Shamoun said. "There was just a sense of security that happens." 

Canadian food a discovery

With food hampers a family has little choice of what would be offered each day for dinner, but it also gave them a chance to be exposed to some foods they had never seen, or tasted, before.

"I remember trying cereal for the first time," said Shamoun.

"My mom makes everything from scratch, so it takes her a while to cook," she said. "But to be able to have a meal in three minutes... it wasn't something I grew up with." 

"It was cereal and milk and you could have it right away and it's instant, and it actually tastes good." 

Peace of mind

Shamoun said her family arrived with only a few suitcases and needed everything: a home, furniture, clothing. Taking food out of the equation brought them some peace of mind. 

"We come from cultures where there's no winters and then you have to buy all this stuff to keep warm," said Shamoun.

"It's a completely different world, where we come from. So having that bit of help with the food it just takes that extra thing that you need to buy, off the list." 

Giving back

Now an adult, Shamoun said she wants to give back by talking about her experience.

There is a stigma around food banks, Shamoun said, a suspicion that once you give people this resource they'll take advantage of it. But she wants to change that. She said the food bank helped her feel stable enough to focus her attention on other goals. 

She has a successful career as a hair stylist, owning her own salon and competing as a member of Team Canada at the OMC Hair Olympics. 

"[Needing a hamper] is not forever," Shamoun said. "This is a helping hand, it has nothing to do with keeping people where they're at, and not allowing people to grow."