As we enter the holiday season, I Can for Kids (iCAN) had the opportunity to connect with a local family to gain their perspective on our grocery gift card program. One of our incredible agency partners introduced us to Maria (not her real name), a kind-hearted and articulate mother who wanted to express her gratitude to iCAN and the generous donors who offered support to her family during a challenging life transition.
This blog post is a transcript of iCAN’s phone interview with Maria. We would like to thank her for taking the initiative to share her compelling story. We know how much more meaningful it is when our donors, volunteers, supporters, and Board of Directors learn directly from the families who benefit from our program.
Q: Maria, it would be great to start off with your family’s story.
Yes, of course! My husband, three children, and I arrived to Canada one year ago as immigrants. We were really well established in our home country with jobs, a good house, and a car. But we chose to leave due to a major increase in serious crime and an overall lack of safety. It’s basically like starting over.
We have a 3-year-old boy, a 12-year-old daughter, and a 15-year-old son. When we arrived, we had nothing other than our three suitcases. We slept on the floor in our new place for the first few nights, but we made a good time of it!
My husband’s work permit has been delayed ever since we arrived, so he hasn’t been able to start a job and we’ve had to rely on our limited savings. We’re so grateful we can access different free programs in Calgary. He’s an IT and software professional with 20 years of experience. But he can’t even get a driver’s license until he can get a social insurance number.
I finally just got a work permit, and I will start a new job at the end of this month. I have a university degree in Human Resources, and I have taken an account manager role because I will be able to walk to my new job in less than five minutes. My time is the most important thing right now because I want to be with my kids as much as possible, especially my baby. My job location also saves a lot of time and money because I don’t have to use transit.
Q: What was happening in your life when you first needed to access the grocery gift card program?
We need to eat Halal foods as part of our religion, and we were really surprised how much these products cost here in Canada. We tried to access Halal food hampers, but you have to submit so much paperwork. They always want proof of the amount of money in your bank account. It just feels so degrading with no trust. It just wasn’t worth it.
We tried other options, but I had to give away at least 60% of the foods in regular hampers. We can never eat the meats because they aren’t Halal. I can keep the eggs and milk but not much else other than any fresh vegetables or fruit. So, I stopped getting hampers because I don’t have a car and it’s just not very easy for us to get the food. Especially if I need to take my toddler.
Q: How did the grocery gift card program impact your family?
I get grocery gift cards about once per month, but I can sometimes skip a month when we have less bills. The gift cards give us the freedom to buy what our kids would want to eat. This is the biggest advantage of the gift cards. The kids just won’t eat much of what’s in hampers. And we can get grocery gift cards for the specific store that carries a lot of Halal foods. I can get everything there, even snacks. And it’s easy and quite fast for me to go there on a short transit ride while my husband babysits.
The gift cards allow you to top up on produce and foods for school lunches. My older kids are aware how much the gift cards benefit them because they get to eat the foods they enjoy, and they are glad to have Halal meats. My oldest son is really into healthy eating, and he always wants lots of fresh produce. My daughter is very quiet, but I know she loves fruit and doesn’t ask for much else. It’s so nice to make her happy with all kinds of fresh fruit.
Q: What would your life be like if your family didn’t get grocery gift cards from I Can for Kids?
To be honest, we’d really struggle. I don’t miss standing in a line waiting for a hamper because it’s embarrassing, and I am very shy. It’s so much easier when I can go the store and get what my kids really need.
My toddler suffers with chronic constipation, and he needs a lot of fresh produce to stay regular. He also needs some medication to help him as his stomach develops and gets better. This medication is so expensive here and costs $80 per month. The gift cards help us afford this medication as well and I can even pick it up at the same grocery store! My eldest son has attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, so we have to keep a healthy diet to keep his mind balanced. He accesses free support groups and programs and it’s just so important to send him a healthy lunch when he goes so he can get the most out of it. He loves those programs.
Most of all, the grocery gift cards make me feel like my family isn’t at as much risk for all sorts of problems.
Q: What would you say to someone who donates to I Can for Kids if they asked you for your opinion of the program?
I would tell them just how important the grocery gift cards are to help families get on their feet. It’s that simple.
The cards provide so much freedom to lead your life with less stress and more choice. I really like that the agency always just seems to know when I need the gift cards. 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. I also know that the staff are kind people, so I don’t feel shame or fear to approach them.
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 email@example.com.