Home Blog April 2021 How a former food bank client used his experience to help those in need

How a former food bank client used his experience to help those in need

How a former food bank client used his experience to help those in need
Food bank use is an impossible choice. Most of the time, clients end up at a food bank because of unfortunate situations. It could be job loss, mental or physical health issues, or a vast variety of other reasons. For Mark Leblanc, Executive Director at the Shediac Food Bank, it started as an escape from an abusive family, but it turned out to be one of the best things that could’ve happened to him.
 
“When I was younger, I joined the army in Grade 10. I really wanted to get out of the house from an abusive family. After a few years in the army as a soldier, I thought I had enough money to go across Canada and explore my options, but I quickly realized that without a civilian education, there were not many choices. I ended up being homeless in Calgary, and I had to use a food bank quite a few times. One day, while I was waiting in line to get my food hamper, a food bank worker I met shared some information about truck driver training. So, with her help, I went on to be a truck driver for almost 13 years. Eventually, I was able to save up enough money to go to college and graduate with honors. It is important to recognize that small gestures matter and the help I received from a food bank was not only food, but it was also extraordinary care for my situation. It was referring me to other services that would hopefully make my life better, and it did”.
 
You can call it coincidence, but for Mark, it was fate. Those hard experiences brought him to his true calling: helping those living with food insecurity.
 
“During my college years it was required that I complete a placement. I really wanted to go somewhere where people needed me and where my work mattered. I was offered many placements at businesses and government but to me, the food bank could use four months of help from a fresh college student for free, and so why not give back? When I started my placement at the Shediac Regional Food Bank, I quickly realized that this was probably something I was meant to do. Having those life experiences brought me here. I can really connect with clients and I can understand the organization because I have been on both sides. It’s quite close to my heart”.
 
As someone who has worked in a food bank for more than 4 years, Mark has seen some ups and downs, but the pandemic really heightened some of the challenges, especially with clients.
 
“2020 has been challenging. We have seen industries close their doors and go out of business, but food banks do not have a choice and nor would we want to. We continue to be here for clients because they need us. The pandemic has made it very difficult for our clients, especially those coping with mental health issues. Covid-19 has unfortunately not helped the situation. Those in vulnerable circumstances have had to isolate and be alone. Those who are older, those in domestic violence situations, children who are in families that are abusive, those who are homeless. Our most vulnerable in this country are the most severely affected by the pandemic, if not by COVID-19 itself. Not matter the circumstance. Our food bankers have also felt this, we feel the pressure too. We are human. We are in this together and this has been super hard on us. But we know that we will overcome, that is what food bankers do. We adapt and overcome. For the betterment of those we serve and for the betterment of us all. History will see that this pandemic has made us better people”.
 
But it has also opened his eyes to do and see things differently. Things that could also work beyond this pandemic.
 
“There have been a lot of positive learnings during this time. It made us realize that what we were doing before was not as viable as we thought. For instance, being leaner as a food bank. The pandemic has really forced us to think outside the box. From how we purchase and distribute food, to how we train staff. We also learned how to develop better partnerships. We have always been pretty good at doing that, but I feel we are now even better. For example, we are now closer to the women’s shelter. We realize we can help each other, and this has made us better as an organization and as people. We’re all interconnected. 
 
I have also seen more support from the community as well as from our agencies. Food Banks Canada and Food Depot New Brunswick have really been supportive. If it wasn’t for Food Banks Canada giving us $15,000 to purchase food, we would’ve had to use our own money. And we were really struggling.”
 
Mark has seen many clients over the years, and many of them have heartbreaking stories, but some linger in your heart, long-term.
 
“Every 15 minutes, we see a different client with a different story. But I remember when the pandemic first began, there was a particular client. He had cancer and only a year to live, if not less. When the lockdowns first happened, he came for his appointment not realizing the pandemic was taking hold. We were busy trying to reformat our operations and he showed up at the door. I informed the client what was going on and that he needed to be safe, he had no idea. I remember thinking, if we were not here, this man would have cancer and would also go hungry. Those are things that really stick with me. We are here for those in need, no matter what.”
 
Sometimes, there can be feelings of shame when asking for help, but as someone who has been there before, Mark had some advice for those who feel this way.
 
“If you need help, contact us, this is what we’re here for. I understand the feeling of being embarrassed, our team understands the feeling of pride. We all have it. It’s not fun to ask for help, but there are times when it is necessary. The greatest thing about asking for help is that there are people in this country who are willing to help. Most importantly, you’d help us if we needed it. We aren’t afraid to ask. We know you would do your best you can, as we are doing our best too.”