These children live in your neighbourhood, go to school with your kids, and often hide their struggles from everyone.
Food insecurity is a term that describes the experience of an individual or household who lacks the income to buy enough food. In 2015, I Can for Kids (iCAN) began providing healthy food to food-insecure children during the summer months while school meal programs were on hiatus. At that time, 1 in 6 kids in Calgary lived in a home struggling with food insecurity. A new report on the rates of food insecurity across Canada shows that the ratio of children who live in a food-insecure household has now increased to 1 in 5. Based on the 2021 metropolitan census, this alarming statistic translates to more than 61,000 kids in Calgary who face food insecurity.
Many people ask us what childhood food insecurity looks like. First, its negative effects can change from day to day depending on fluctuations in household finances. Second, its harmful impacts grow more intense as the level of severity of food insecurity shifts from marginal to moderate to severe. Unfortunately, Alberta is home to the highest proportion of severely food-insecure households across all ten provinces.
Nearly all food-insecure kids deal with persistent worry or anxiety about whether their family will run out of food. They must often eat the same inexpensive and low-nutrient foods every day for long periods of time while money is tight. Some need to reduce the size of snacks and meals because their caregivers unexpectedly lost a job or cannot secure full-time work at a sufficient wage. Others go an entire day or more without any food when the household budget becomes so constrained that their parents must choose to pay rent instead of buying groceries.
The new report on food insecurity also confirms much of what we have learned through our own research with the University of Calgary. First, Alberta has the highest rate of food insecurity among working people across Canada. Many of the parents we support have one or more low-wage jobs, but employment isn’t enough to ensure they can make ends meet. Second, households who identify as Black, Arabic, Indigenous, and Southeast Asian are at higher risk of food insecurity. Our 2021 impact evaluation uncovered that most of our gift card recipients belong to visible minority populations. Parents in these households often face greater challenges securing employment or receiving recognition for valuable skills acquired through foreign training, experience, and education.
Researchers and advocates in Canada recommend income-based policies and interventions that improve financial wellbeing to alleviate and prevent food insecurity. That’s why iCAN transitioned from providing food to kids to offering grocery gift cards to families: we want to help address the root cause of food insecurity. Our grocery gift card program represents a vital opportunity to shift the charitable response in support of effective income-based solutions that prevent food insecurity.
Our next step is to expand our reach until poverty reduction strategies take full effect. This requires the ongoing and valued support of current and new third-party fundraisers, individual and corporate donors, and skilled volunteers.
To learn more about I Can for Kids and their unique approach to childhood food insecurity, visit www.icanforkids.ca
About Donald Barker
Donald has worked as a registered dietitian for more than 25 years. He also has a professional background in communications and has long advocated for populations who face adverse, unjust, or systemic barriers that lead to higher rates of poor social, mental, emotional, and physical health outcomes. Donald currently volunteers as an Advisor with iCAN to support our transition towards evidence-based approaches that help improve the well-being of children in Calgary who live in low-income and food-insecure households. You can learn more about Donald at www.synthesist.pro
About I Can for Kids Foundation
I Can for Kids works closely with multiple agency partners to target and distribute grocery gift cards to food-insecure families who are most in need. The iCAN grocery gift card program is a more dignified and inclusive approach to dealing with food insecurity, allowing families to shop where everyone else shops and to choose foods that are appropriate for their health and cultural needs. Last year, iCAN supported more than 34,000 children across Calgary.
For more information and media inquiries, please contact iCAN Executive Director, Bobbi Turko at firstname.lastname@example.org.