Restoring dignity with grocery gift cards

When receiving I Can for Kids grocery gift cards, recipients told researchers they could prioritize their own household needs and it helped them feel competent as a parent.

Last month we started to share the preliminary findings of our University of Calgary research study funded by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, Nutrien and I Can for Kids donors. 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.

The first finding revealed how 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. Families who received our grocery gift cards were able to avoid eviction and stable housing is important to helping get people back on their feet. In contrast, study participants reported limited financial impact was realized with food hamper programs.

This month we’re sharing the second finding, something most of us take for granted – dignity and autonomy. When receiving I Can for Kids grocery gift cards, recipients told researchers they could prioritize their own household needs and it helped them feel competent as a parent – they shopped for their own groceries and could select foods that met their households’ unique needs, such as those that were health-related like food allergies, or cultural preferences such as Halal foods. These needs were usually unmet when accessing food hamper programs because households had little to no choice in the foods that were given to them.

When you’re just handed things, you’re kind of expected to just take what is given to you… [using GGC] makes me feel like I’m contributing and doing something for my kids…I’m doing something they want, as opposed to…you have to eat that cause it’s all we got. You know, those nights are hard…but when you’re able to go out and [grocery shop and meal plan]…it just makes you feel human, makes you feel like, yeah, I just did that myself. I didn’t have somebody do it for me.

Calgary Housing Company

Study participants who have accessed food hamper programs described that they were embarrassedstanding in line, they had a fear of being recognized, and in some cases they brought a suitcase to put their food in so people didn’t see where they’d been.

When was the last time you were ashamed or feared being recognized when picking up food for your family?

Through the study, recipients told researchers they felt I Can for Kids’ grocery gift card program provided more dignified access to food than compared to food hamper programs because the grocery gift cards were provided discreetly and there was no stigma associated with using the gift cards and shopping in grocery stores.  

Many assumptions are made about people living in poverty and experiencing food insecurity. That they’ve made bad choices and should just be grateful for any food given to them. After all, they’re hungry, right? But what we fail to appreciate is that receiving donated food most often makes the donor feel good, not the recipient. Not because they’re ungrateful, rather the experience itself is dehumanizing and often falls short of meeting their unique household’s needs.

Our grocery gift cards give families the opportunity to “shop where everyone else shop”. It helps restore pride, dignity, confidence and builds a sense of belonging. It is simply more inclusive.

As a direct result of limited household income, too many children and youth are going hungry every day in Calgary.  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 study findings are compelling and we’re just getting started. Next month we’ll have a look at how grocery gift cards help to improve diet quality – challenging the myth “they’ll just buy junk food.”

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,

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