Kitchener-Waterloo·Sounds of the Season

Waterloo dad recalls gnawing hunger of his childhood and how the food bank helped

Chris Martin has distinct memories about the gnawing hunger he faced as a kid, growing up in a food insecure household. He shares his story now to encourage people to donate food and funds to The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

Martin says he and his brother would go entire days without a meal while growing up

Between the ages of 4- to 12-years old, Martin said food at home in Elmira was rarely a consistent thing. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Chris Martin has distinct memories about the gnawing hunger he faced as a kid, growing up in a food insecure household. 

But he has a hard time describing it. 

"I could make you feel sad maybe, about my story," the Waterloo father said. "But I can't make someone feel that weird, sickly, nauseated feeling when you're so hungry — and you've been hungry for so long — that you're not actually hungry anymore."

Between the ages of four to 12-years old, Martin said food at his family's home in Elmira was rarely a consistent thing. 

He and his brother would go entire days without eating, or they'd get a single meal of just bread. When food was available, it was cheap and unhealthy.  

"We'd get plain hot dogs. Sometimes there were buns, that was always nice. The biggest treat was frozen mini pizzas [that] would sometimes go on sale for 25 cents," he said.

Martin's dad had a spinal cord injury and his mother had undiagnosed schizophrenia. They were separated, and neither were employed. 

'You didn't stand much of a chance'

At school, Martin's teachers would discipline him for his poor and inattentive behaviour. 

"I had a very difficult time concentrating," he said. He remembers being skinny, lacking athleticism and irritable. 

"Back then I thought, 'I'm the problem here.' But then as you grow, you realize you didn't stand much of a chance. You were going to school hungry — you can't learn, you can't participate at your full potential and those things spiral off to other problems," he said.

Martin said he was labelled as the bad kid, the kid that couldn't pay attention in class, and the kid that wore the same clothes every day. 

"You take the brunt of the blame for things that are completely out of your control as a kid. Like, I'm not bringing any income into my household. I don't get to choose what kinds of food we get if we did have income. I can't take control of my mom or dad's life," Martin said.

'It took a ton of community'

Now, with a family of his own, Martin has started to share his story of food insecurity.

In September he was the keynote speaker at The Food Bank of Waterloo Region's Waffles in Warehouse fundraiser and he says his goal is to reverse stigma about food insecurity. 

"It really takes nothing to disrupt your own assumptions," he said. "If I just changed one person's mind — from thinking poor lazy people use the food bank to strong people who just need a little bit of support and a little bit of community use the food bank, then that was a success." 

Food insecurity at home changed when Martin started high school, and his mother connected with a social worker who introduced them to the food bank. 

He challenges the notion that things turn around only when a person puts in effort or pulls one's self up by their boot straps. 

"It took a ton of community," Martin emphasized. "That was a huge part of me getting out from under living in a food insecure household."

Throughout the month of December, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo is raising food and funds for The Food Bank of Waterloo Region through the Sounds of the Season campaign.

Please consider making an online donation to the food bank by clicking here.


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