I prefer to give monthly because food insecurity is a priority issue, and I know my contribution goes directly to families who need it as soon as they need it.

As we entered a new year, I Can for Kids (iCAN) was excited by the opportunity to connect with Sonya – one of our monthly donors and volunteers – to learn what inspires her to invest in our grocery gift card program. We certainly weren’t expecting to hear such a moving and insightful story! We’re simply amazed by how much more we discover through spontaneous and meaningful conversations with our donors, recipients, and volunteers. And we hope you’re just as inspired as we are by the candid discussion in the following transcript of our interview.

We’d also really like to thank Sonya for sharing a very personal, emotional, and challenging journey as a child and a mother who experienced food insecurity at multiple points during her early life until she established a rewarding career and solid income in her 30s. Her perspective really highlights the hidden complexities of food insecurity and the harmful repercussions of society’s well-intentioned but highly misguided desire to just fill hungry children’s bellies.   

Q: Sonya, it would be great to start off with a bit of your personal story and why you are so committed to help alleviate food insecurity in our community. 

Well, I’m a single mom of two fully-grown kids and I have lived in Calgary and the surrounding area for more than twenty years. I faced my share of struggles when my children were young after the breakdown of my marriage with their father. Luckily, I was able to access subsidized childcare, donated furniture, and loans from people who cared about us so I could afford to rent a home for my family as we started our new life. In the beginning, I definitely struggled to put food on the table. Thankfully, I have since achieved a successful and interesting career, and I’m very grateful to own a beautiful home in a peaceful neighbourhood.

I also grew up with a single mom and she lived on welfare for most of her life. My family is Metis, and my mother faced a lot of discrimination in the small town where she grew up. She was definitely in a repetitive cycle of family trauma, and she always believed that she was limited in the ways other people told her she was limited. She had no education because she had to quit school to take care of her many younger siblings. Both of her parents, my grandparents, endured the residential school system from a young age and their experience wasn’t good. My mom chose to raise her three children in the same small town, and we all experienced the impact of intergenerational suffering, food insecurity, and subtle or not-so-subtle racist beliefs about Native people.     

Q. I Can for Kids is always so very grateful to have supporters like you who’ve had personal experiences of food insecurity. Now that we are aware, we would benefit greatly from your wisdom on how to best approach this issue, if you are willing to share?

Yes, of course. 

So, I’ve experienced food insecurity as both a kid and a single mom. In both instances, the experience was very shameful and deflating, and we never wanted to access food hampers. I can tell you right now that I’m so glad that I Can for Kids provides a way for families to buy their own food for everyone in the home. You can’t underestimate the importance of this. 

I remember getting a Christmas hamper only once when I was a child. The food in that hamper just didn’t interest us at all because we were already so accustomed to eating really crappy quality and we just wanted something new and different and normal. All my friends were making meals based on their family traditions, and we basically just ate salty noodles and macaroni and cheese. 

And the Christmas gifts in the hamper made me just feel worse, not better. I realized how generous people were when they donated to families like mine, but the gifts were items that were too young for me or didn’t even relate to my interests or hopes or dreams. I remember getting a necklace, and I didn’t understand how that was going to make my life better or more interesting because it just sat around my neck. 

So, it just became normal for my family to not have enough food, and I often couldn’t even bring a lunch to school. We lived on low-cost items and hoped to get invited to a friend’s house for supper.

Later on, as a single mom, I chose to access a food hamper on one occasion at Christmas because I just didn’t want my kids to have nothing. Again, we were honestly very grateful, but it didn’t meet my kids’ needs at all. It was like a total repeat of my childhood. In that moment, I refused to ever access another hamper due to the shame of lining up and the futility of trying to make the best of what we received. I luckily managed to gain higher-paying employment shortly after this experience, and we never again had to go without enough good food.

Q: Although it may now seem obvious, can you describe why you chose to become a monthly donor to the I Can for Kids grocery gift card program? 

I prefer to give monthly because food insecurity is definitely a priority issue, and I know my contribution goes directly to families who need it as soon as they need it. They receive the support very quickly without having to wait. I also find it easier and more rewarding to just donate monthly because it gives me a feeling of contributing on a regular basis so kids can access healthy food right away. 

Now that I have a great career and good income, I want to make an impact close to home where I can actually make a difference that I can see. I know there are so many needs greater than mine, and I want to help fill in those gaps as a contributing member of the community. My motto is: If I am able to help, I will help. It would be selfish for me to not give back, as there are food-insecure families who struggle now even more than I did when I was growing up. 

Q: I’m curious if there is anything specific about the grocery gift card program that inspired you to lend your support?

I truly believe in the approach. Grocery gift cards give families way more dignity. My family would have avoided so much shame if we had had this option when I was growing up.

I also really like that the cards provide immediate relief to a family in need. They don’t have to fill out forms and wait for a specific period of time. They don’t have to line up. I love the idea of having an immediate impact that provides relief to a family and takes away all the stigma they feel for needing help.

Food insecurity causes so many mental health issues for kids, and no one ever realizes this. The constant stress of wondering whether you will have supper on any given night, or whether you will have to hide the fact that you don’t have a lunch for school. 

Lastly, I also think this type of support lets kids know that they are loved by their community. They know that other people truly care about them. I didn’t feel this while I was growing up. It would have made such a huge difference in my life and the way I saw the world through my young eyes. 

Q: What would you say to someone who asked for your opinion on whether they should donate to I Can for Kids and the grocery gift card program?

I’d certainly tell them that this is the most amazing gift for a family in need. There are no barriers. It’s confidential and private. It’s efficient. The impact is immediate. And families get the freedom to choose their own food and the freedom to go to the store that they like. All of this with total dignity. 

This is phenomenal support, and no one would ever know unless they’ve been food insecure. I Can for Kids is changing lives. It’s very inspiring. 

Monthly contributions offer several benefits to our recipients, our donors, and our ability to improve our program, such as:

  • delivering more consistent and predictable support to families in greatest need 
  • making a greater charitable impact in the community throughout the entire year 
  • strengthening the financial stability required for effective organizational planning

And importantly, it’s easy to immediately alter, suspend, or stop your monthly donations at any time should your budget or financial situation change.

To join iCAN’s expanding list of champions, check out the ways you can get involved or donate

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 bobbi@icanforkids.ca.

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