Research & evaluation

Our research represents the voice of food-insecure families.

We discovered that our innovative approach significantly improves the lives of children and their families in ways that food provision programs cannot, including our former summer food pack program.

The results of our study validated iCAN’s decision to transition to grocery gift cards as the sole vehicle of support for food-insecure children and families across Calgary.

This study is the first of its kind. The University of Calgary and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health conducted in-depth research on how our grocery gift card approach impacts children and families living with food insecurity, as well as the agency partners who help target our program. We summarize all the study results below. You can also discover more here:

    The case for gift cards

    During interviews with study participants, the University of Calgary researchers learned that all recipients prefer to access grocery gift cards rather than free food hampers. Here’s why:

    Dignity & Inclusion

    Grocery gift card

    Free food hamper

    They experience no stigma because grocery store staff cannot recognize that they received support from iCAN They fear being recognized by people they know when they are in line to pick up a hamper
    They feel more competent to care for their family when they can buy their own food They feel ashamed and less capable when they have to ask for free food
    They experience more inclusion when shopping in the same stores with friends and neighbours They are forced to access an alternate food system with little to no choice over what they bring home
    They develop more trust and rapport with the agencies who assess their life situation and unique household needs They are often required to satisfy complex eligibility requirements by disclosing personal information on forms

    Access & Flexibility

    Grocery gift card

    Free food hamper

    They can buy enough food to last their family an average of 7 days They cannot anticipate how much of the food they will be able to use
    They can choose where to shop, when to shop, and how much of the card to spend They must travel to specific locations, at specific times, despite scheduling conflicts
    They can control how much food they buy at one time based on transportation and ability They cannot predict the volume of the food hamper they will need to transport home
    They feel less financial stress because they can free up budget to pay for other basic needs or unexpected expenses They experience little to no financial relief when accessing food hampers

    Diet Quality & Food Waste

    Grocery gift card

    Free food hamper

    They don’t waste food because they can buy familiar, cultural, and fresh products They can’t eat as much as 70% of the items because they are expired, low quality, or unfamiliar
    They improve their kids’ diet quality because they can afford to buy healthier snack items and fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meats They receive a lot of non-perishables and research shows that pop and confectionary are the most abundant items in food hampers in Canada*
    They can afford more costly items that support their kids’ allergies, health needs, or diet restrictions They have little to no control whether the food they receive in the hamper supports their health needs
    They can teach their children how to plan and make meals when they can afford all the ingredients They cannot meal plan without the ingredients they need to teach their children how to cook

    *M., Bucknell, D., LaPlain, D. (2021). Canada’s Invisible Food Network; Second Harvest
    and Value Chain Management International; Ontario, Canada. Accessible from: www.

    Benefits for agency partners

    We conduct a comprehensive program evaluation with our agency partners each year. There continues to be full alignment between the insights they shared with the U of C research team and the feedback they provided in our most recent evaluation. Here is what our partners tell us about our grocery gift card program:

    Logistics and resourcing

    • Requires no physical space or refrigeration to store food and food hampers.
    • Removes the burden of assembling and distributing food hampers to families in need.
    • Eliminates the need to monitor, manage, and dispose of donated food waste.

    Enhanced client interactions

    • Creates interest and discussion so they can assess and target the families most in need.
    • Frees up more staff time to work directly with clients.
    • Provides a way to explore and address other needs with clients, such as support for their mental health or guidance around their job searches.

    Improved client experience

    • Strengthens trust, engagement, and rapport with clients.
    • Causes no stress for clients because they do not have to fill in application forms.
    • Makes it much easier for clients with language barriers to understand and ask for the support.

    One of the really positive sides of grocery gift cards is that it’s connected me with families in the community that I wasn’t connected with before. I also had more conversations with families that have been getting gift cards.

    Sandra, Agency Partner

    The efficiency factor

    Grocery gift cards

    Your contribution quickly empowers families to gain control over their struggles. Our process is driven by direct relationships: you to us, us to agency partners, agency partners to families in need. We’ve built circles of trust that help it all go smoothly.

    Free food hampers

    There’s a lot that goes on between a donation and getting food to hungry kids. Free food provision is much more impersonal, stigmatizing, and wasteful. It focuses less on relationships and choice, and more on transporting and assembling bulk quantities of food around the city.

    Since the I Can for Kids grocery gift card program started, they have enabled us to serve a lot more people with food insecurity concerns. Once these concerns were met, we could then serve them with additional basic needs resources, or some resiliency support, or some engagement support.

    Eziekiel, Agency Partner

    We used to give food to hungry kids. Now we empower families to feed themselves.

    Become a part of the innovation today!