Most innovations seem obvious. After the fact.

There are more than 50,000 children and youth living in poverty in Calgary right now. And living in poverty is a significant marker for living in a household that is food insecure.

I Can for Kids was created in 2015 to address the gaps in our city’s food provision system during the summer break, when thousands of kids lost access to their school breakfast and lunch programs. In 2020 when the pandemic hit, our pivot to grocery gift cards revealed an innovative response that builds trust and helps restore dignity.

It was our original focus on summer hunger however, that first caught the eye of the University of Calgary (UofC) and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, Research Program for Vulnerable Populations, which is designed to help launch promising new research. Researchers from the UofC saw our grocery gift card solution as an ideal opportunity to catalyze further research into innovative approaches that lessen social vulnerability.

Supplying our frontline agency partners with grocery gift cards represented a focus on an income-based response to food insecurity because lack of food isn’t the issue, the root of the problem is a lack of money.

This new study, the first of its kind in Canada, is not only helping us understand how grocery gift cards help alleviate food insecurity, but also underscoring the incredible ripple effect this type of approach is having on families.

From September to November 2020, primary caregivers who received grocery gift cards from I Can for Kids during the same year, participated in in-depth interviews to share how this type of support impacted their households. Study participants had previously accessed other types of support prior to receiving our grocery gift cards, such as food hamper programs, and provided thoughtful comparisons between the different models. Our agency partners who distribute our grocery gift cards were also interviewed by researchers and shared their insights and experiences on the frontline with our program.

Although data analysis is ongoing, preliminary findings are very encouraging. Over the next few months, we’ll share what we’ve learned, starting today with the first finding – how grocery gift cards provide financial relief to food insecure households.

The study found that I Can for Kids grocery gift cards relieved stress over household finances and household food supply.  They allowed households to afford to purchase adequate, nutritious food, and also allowed them to reallocate a portion of their food budget towards other household expenses, such as rent and utilities.

“One mother had come to the point where she had to choose between paying rent or buying food when she reached out for help. I Can for Kids helped her to feed her daughter when she had no other resources to use and by doing so enabled her to avoid eviction.”

Calgary Housing Company

In contrast, participants reported limited financial impact was realized with food hamper programs.

By working together with our diverse network of agency partners, the simplicity of a grocery gift is helping to address the complexities and consequences of living in a household with limited income. The findings are compelling and there’s more to share. Next month we’ll have a look at how grocery gift cards improve dignity and autonomy – something most of us take for granted.

In the meantime, know that when you donate to I Can for Kids, you’re contributing to an evidence-based approach to alleviating food insecurity and the impact of your donation goes well beyond supplying food.

It’s time to tackle childhood hunger.

We’re on it, but we need your help – our fundraising goal for 2021 is $1.4 million. Please donate today!

Learn more about who we are and how we’re impacting the lives of hungry children in Calgary,

Want to be part of the solution?