The best thing about my job is the people I meet. Last week was no exception when I spoke to the lead organizers of six of Wellington County’s food banks. If you need your faith in humanity restored this season, look no further than right here at home.

While I always do my part to support food drives through my children’s schools and with extra goods in the grocery line, I admit I really haven’t given much thought to what goes on behind the scenes. I was ignorant to the bigger picture of need in my own community.

When I stood in between the rows of non-perishable goods at the Centre Wellington Food Bank, it put into perspective just how great the need is to help those who need it – not just today, not just at Christmas, but all year through. When I stepped into the facility of Erin’s food bank, I realized how far that food needed to stretch.

I spoke to food bank officials in Minto, whose locations are nothing more than a pantry cupboard and there isn’t room to fully accommodate fresh ingredients to meet the nutrition needs of their clients on a regular basis.

When I heard the statistics, I was baffled at how this happens in a community where the neighbourhoods seem so affluent, or at least middle-income. Houses often have more than one vehicle in the driveway, large homes with several bathrooms inside or even larger farms, whose livelihood depends on growing food. Families have kids on sports teams and in dance classes with money for the drive-thru each morning. I am no different (except maybe lower on the middle scale). I wonder how hunger happens here. Why don’t most of us see the need?

But then I remember it wasn’t long ago the Carpenter and I walked the red line of fear, having to make the call between paying a bill and feeding the kids. We were a single-income family who scraped by every single month. There was a lot of macaroni and cheese dinners. Nobody knew how much we struggled. We were too proud to ask for help and too embarrassed to admit we needed it. There were many sleepless nights.

But we had family to fall back on if things got dire. Many people don’t have that safety net. To be honest, if the furnace or the car died tomorrow, or the Carpenter (God forbid) got laid off, we’d be right back there again – afraid. That is the truth.

That is why food banks exist. Most of us are working poor, living pay cheque to pay cheque, walking the red line month to month. There is no shame in that. Sometimes, having the courage to ask for the help is the first step to turning things around.

Fortunately, our communities are incredibly generous. We may not fully understand how significant the need is, but we contribute when we can and that speaks volumes for the kindness of neighbours.

I had no idea of the magnitude of what a food bank does, beyond collecting food, to help those in need to get a foothold on helping themselves. The ripple effect of this kind of volunteerism is beautiful, creating dignity and fostering compassion. People do care.

How often do we forget that such a simple gift really can change lives? It truly is better to give than receive.