Optimizing our collective impact through reciprocal collaboration

Nov 1, 2022

I Can for Kids (iCAN) is highly committed to collaborate with other agencies across the charitable sector who share our mission to alleviate food insecurity. We specifically support food-insecure children and families by designing, operating, and evaluating an innovative grocery gift card program that we deliver through partnerships with multiple frontline social service providers. This unique approach centralizes and coordinates the fundraising, expertise, and human resources required to maximize impact on alleviating food insecurity without an unnecessary duplication of effort across the sector. 

We currently collaborate with a large network of agency partners in Calgary and as our fundraising capacity increases, we will expand this network to include more and more of the organizations on our growing waitlist. Karen Olivier, the Chief Executive Officer of Closer to Home Community Services, recently reached out to us to express this kind gesture of solidarity: “Thank you for your on-going support for Closer to Home through monthly donations of grocery gift cards to families in need. By providing monthly support, you increased our capacity in the community. This means that we helped more families and children in the ways that they needed most. We couldn’t have done it without you.” 

To the best of our knowledge, iCAN is the first charity in the world to offer grocery gift cards as the sole vehicle of support for food-insecure populations. We feel very confident in promoting the transition away from food programming due to the exceptionally positive results of our research with the University of Calgary where we examined the impact of our new approach on agency partners and food-insecure families. 

However, we also feel great responsibility to prevent a recurrence of the major pitfalls that currently exist across the fragmented, siloed, and disjointed food provision system in our city. Hundreds of food programs exist within Calgary and most – if not all – work independently without collaboration. As more and more organizations recognize the considerable advantages of grocery gift cards over traditional food programs, iCAN would like to inspire and cultivate strategic collaboration across the local charitable sector to ensure we establish a highly efficient, coordinated, and impactful network of support for food-insecure households

In 2021, Vibrant Communities Calgary published Examining Calgary’s Emergency Food Assistance System to summarize their research on the capacity of the local food charity sector. Most of the food assistance providers that they interviewed highlighted the widespread unwillingness to collaborate as the greatest weakness and barrier across the current system. That same year, Mount Royal University published The Right to Eat Right to share insights on the ever-growing number of agencies who provide services to address food insecurity across Calgary. The authors emphasized how the disconnected network of local food programs results in significant confusion for social service providers, funders, donors, the public, and most of all, food-insecure populations. 

The combined recommendations from these two reports highlight the obligation to form a centralized and cohesive response to food insecurity in Calgary if we ever wish to truly move the dial on this serious public health concern. A unified effort would result in multiple benefits that would enable the system to:

  • enhance client awareness and understanding of available supports
  • maximize the efficiency and coordination of service delivery
  • optimize equitable access to targeted supports
  • share resources, knowledge, and expertise
  • establish standardized and streamlined processes
  • prevent unnecessary duplication of efforts
  • reduce workload across all agencies
  • expand fundraising opportunities and success
  • attract more donors, sponsors, and funders
  • strengthen multi-sector networks and connections 

I Can for Kids would like to echo this exact sentiment as the evidence mounts for more dignified approaches to food insecurity that target inadequate income – rather than inadequate food – as the root cause of this escalating issue. We are more than willing to support and create partnerships with stakeholders who no longer wish to engage in the cumbersome and inefficient process of food provision. We’ve been there. It’s essential for the charitable sector to collectively show major funders and donors that we can optimize the social impact of their generous contributions through shared vision and resources, high-performing partnerships, coordinated and streamlined services, reduced administrative burden, and more equitable support for food-insecure populations. 

I Can for Kids can provide support in several ways, such as: sharing our learning, experience, and expertise, investing dedicated funds from other agencies to procure grocery gift cards that they can then use to support their food-insecure clients, or engaging in conversations to improve the grocery gift card model and expand the reach to other food-insecure populations. Please reach out if your organization has questions or an interest in partnering with us. 

If your agency works with food-insecure populations and you would like us to ease the burden of operating your own grocery gift card program, we’re here to help. 

To learn more about iCAN visit www.icanforkids.ca. For more information and media inquiries contact iCAN Executive Director Bobbi Turko at bobbi@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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