We’re transforming the way our city tackles childhood food insecurity
At least 1 in 6 children in Calgary lives in a home that struggles with food insecurity. This means their families don’t have reliable access to healthy food because they don’t have enough income to meet all their basic needs. These kids are more likely to experience poor diet quality, struggles with school performance, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, chronic health conditions, and hospitalization. Due to the alarming rise in grocery costs coupled with stagnant wage rates, record increases in inflation, and potential food shortages, we now need to double our efforts to raise significantly more funds to meet the growing pressure for support.
We used to give food to hungry kids… now we empower families to feed themselves.
In 2015, 11-year old Sutton Garner was watching a news item when she learned that thousands of children go hungry over the summer months. Like a lot of kids, she was both bothered by this and curious – she wanted to know why. And specifically if it was happening in Calgary. She discovered that childhood hunger is real and pervasive in our city. And that it’s big and complex and heartbreaking. It affects every part of a child’s development and can have a long-lasting impact on their health and well-being. But it didn’t intimidate her. So she stepped up. And her desire for real change was the catalyst that launched I Can for Kids.
iCAN operates an innovative grocery gift card program that represents a major shift in how our communities can help food-insecure children and families access enough healthy food. And our work is based on research. For over 40 years, giving food to hungry children and families was considered the solution to food insecurity. But study after study has shown that this approach is fraught with unintended negative consequences. It dictates what recipients get to eat without giving them much choice. And it doesn’t even begin to address the underlying cause: insufficient income. That’s why we stopped giving food. We needed to take a bold step forward.
“When you’re just handed things, you’re kind of expected to just take what is given to you. When you’re able to go out and grocery shop and meal plan, it just makes you feel human.” Katie, single-parent household, 2 children
We don’t aim to be just another food charity. We support kids for as long and as often as required throughout the entire year. For some households, a month or two of support is all they need to get them through a challenging time, whereas other families require more assistance when they face extensive or enduring hardship. Each household receives support based on their unique life circumstances. We also collaborate with other organizations who advocate for long-term strategies that address poverty as the root cause of food insecurity. We endeavour to join forces with partners who wish to improve access to healthy food to build a city where no child goes hungry.
Our new mission is to empower food-insecure children and families with dignified choices to purchase the food that meets their unique needs. All year round. The success of our model is built on longstanding partnerships with 25 frontline social service agencies who have direct relationships with food-insecure families. We transitioned effortlessly to our new grocery gift card program because we had already established the infrastructure and agency network that we needed to target the thousands of children and families at highest risk. And now we support children of ALL ages throughout their developing years.
To learn more about how we impact the lives of thousands of food-insecure kids, please visit www.icanforkids.ca
We’ve done our homework. In 2020, we partnered with the University of Calgary and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health to conduct in-depth research on how our new grocery gift card program impacts children and families living with food insecurity. We combined the results of this study with the feedback we collected from frontline agency partners through a comprehensive program evaluation in 2021. 100% of our recipients and agency partners preferred the grocery gift card model over a traditional food hamper program. It is easier to deliver and access, it prevents food waste, and it has much less impact on the environment without the need for food hamper storage, refrigeration, or transportation.
It’s also clear that grocery gift cards represent a barrier- and stigma-free way of empowering families to purchase the food that meets their unique cultural, religious, and health needs. Families told us that the gift card program demonstrates unconditional respect and a high level of trust that they are competent to make the best choices for their kids. In contrast, accessing food programs leads them to feel devalued and ashamed, even though agency staff are always so supportive. Our gift card recipients also shared how the freedom to grocery shop with everyone else at a convenient time in the store of their choice restores their sense of pride, dignity, and belonging.
“It’s so hard to ask for help, but the grocery gift card program never makes you feel bad or ashamed. I’ve never felt any judgment from anyone when I get or use cards. I also feel very comfortable talking with the staff and that makes it easier to get all kinds of support. They really know my situation and they know about my kids.” Grocery Gift Card Recipient
Our new program is simply more inclusive, flexible, and environmentally responsible. To learn more about our research, please visit www.icanforkids.ca
In difficult times, every dollar counts. iCAN will invest 100% of the donations we receive to empower food-insecure families to purchase the foods they need to meet their kids’ unique health and cultural needs. We cover associated operating expenses through our annual budget to ensure donor contributions reach the children who need support the most.
In 2021, iCAN distributed $563,600 in grocery gift cards to empower 10,000 families to feed 34,000 children in 177 communities across Calgary. The majority of these children lived in households at higher risk for food insecurity, such as immigrant, refugee, Indigenous, and single-parent families.
“I Can for Kids developed a better approach to support hungry children and their families in a dignified, cost- effective, more culturally sensitive, non-judgemental, and community-based way.” iCAN donor
We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to collaborate with new partners. Due to the many advantages and benefits of our new grocery gift card program, numerous frontline agencies have asked to join our growing waitlist for partnerships. We can only meet this increased demand through increased donations. Please visit our website to see a full list of our current agency partners.
“Since the I Can for Kids grocery gift card program started, they have enabled us to serve a lot more people with food insecurity concerns. Once these concerns were met, we could then serve clients with additional basic needs resources, or some resiliency support, or some engagement support.” Eziekiel, Agency Partner
Our new grocery gift card program is far more effective than traditional food provision models, and it requires considerable investment from the community to meet the needs of the growing number of food-insecure kids across our city.
Our 2022 fundraising goal is $1.2 million.
Here’s how you can help:
A financial donation is the most critical step in transforming the future for food-insecure kids. You can make an online donation anytime at www.icanforkids.ca/donate. If you want to make a bigger and more consistent impact, consider a recurring monthly gift that enables us to better predict our current level of funding. You can increase, decrease, or cancel a recurring donation at any time.
“I became a monthly donor to help I Can for Kids feed hungry kids across the city. Seeing that donation on our monthly statement, alongside our monthly grocery expenses, validates our choice to give.” iCAN donor