We’re transforming the way our city tackles childhood food insecurity
Alberta now has the highest rate of food insecurity in Canada. 1 in 5 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 and record increases in inflation, we have increased 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 learned that thousands of children go without food over the summer months. She was both bothered and curious by this. She wanted to know why this problem existed, and if happened in Calgary. She discovered that childhood food insecurity is real and pervasive in our city. She also learned it’s big and complex and heartbreaking. It affects every aspect of a child’s development and can lead to long-lasting impacts on their health and well-being. But it didn’t intimidate her, and she stepped up. Her desire to create 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 efficiently and effectively our communities can help food-insecure children and families access enough healthy food. And our work is based on current research.
For over 40 years, giving food to hungry children and families was considered the solution to food insecurity. Yet 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 or control over their diet. Most importantly, 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.
We no longer see ourselves as a food charity. Instead, we have transformed the way we provide support to ensure families in greatest need can maintain the human right to healthy food.
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. 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 enduring financial hardship. Each household receives support based on their unique life circumstances.
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 have established the infrastructure and network that we need to target the thousands of children and families at highest risk. And now we support children of ALL ages throughout their developing years.
We also collaborate with other organizations who advocate for long-term strategies that address poverty as the root cause of food insecurity. We are an Enough for All Champion with Vibrant Communities Calgary as we collaborate to raise public awareness of the preventable impacts of poverty. We also endeavour to join forces with more and more partners who wish to improve access to healthy food to build a city where no child goes hungry.
Our Research & Evaluation
We continually do our homework. We partnered with the University of Calgary to conduct research on how our new grocery gift card program impacts children and families living with food insecurity. We also collect comprehensive feedback and insights from our frontline agency partners through an annual program evaluation. We also interview our recipients to learn more about their experiences, perspectives, and recommendations.
100% of our recipients and agency partners prefer the grocery gift card model over a traditional food hamper program. It’s much easier to deliver and access, it prevents food waste, and it has no negative impact on the environment because there is no need for food 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 trust that they are competent to make the best choices for their kids. In contrast, accessing food programs leaves them feeling devalued and ashamed. 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.
Our new program is simply more inclusive, flexible, and environmentally responsible.
To learn more about the outcomes of our research, please visit www.icanforkids.ca
In difficult times, every dollar counts. iCAN invests 100% of donations to empower food-insecure families to purchase the foods they need. We cover operating expenses through our annual budget to ensure donor contributions reach the children who need support the most.
In 2022, iCAN distributed $710,800 in grocery gift cards to empower thousands of families to feed 34,400 children in 214 communities across Calgary. The majority of these children lived in households at higher risk for food insecurity, such as immigrant, refugee, Indigenous, visible minority, and single-parent families.
Our Agency Partners
For a full list of our partners, please visit our website:
We’re always open to 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.
While our new grocery gift card program is far more effective than traditional food provision models, it requires considerable investment from the community to meet the needs of the growing number of food-insecure kids across our city.
Our 2023 fundraising goal is $1.7 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.