The power of choice

Food insecurity is caused by a lack of income, not a lack of food. That’s why experts recommend income-based policies and benefits that help low-income populations afford all their basic needs. This leaves most charities wondering how they can best help food-insecure households while advocating for effective policies that address poverty and income inequities. I Can for Kids (iCAN) turned to our grocery gift card recipients for their suggestions and ideas. 

Food-insecure families often tell us that it’s near impossible to craft a complete meal for their kids when they have no control over the food and ingredients they can access. That’s one of the key reasons all the participants in our research informed us that they prefer to access our grocery gift cards rather than our former summer food program and other food charities. Our approach empowers them with the freedom of choice. 

A single mother of two young children explained why she prefers to access our grocery gift cards instead of free food hampers: “When you’re just handed food, you’re expected to take what is given to you. When you’re able to shop and meal plan with a grocery gift card, it just makes you feel human.” 

The incredible support of our donors, champions, and partners empowers thousands of parents with the autonomy to buy their kids healthy food with dignity. The power to choose enables food-insecure families to exercise more control over their lives and improve the well-being, resilience, and self-esteem of their children. Our recipients describe a whole array of benefits when accessing grocery gift cards, including:

  • a stronger sense of competence when they can choose and buy healthy foods to meet their kids’ unique needs 
  • increased social inclusion when they can shop in the same grocery stores as friends, colleagues, and neighbours
  • much less stress when they can plan to shop at a store location and a time of day that fit into their busy life schedules 

When iCAN first launched in 2015, we faced many of the same challenges as other food provision programs, such as:

  • identifying healthy yet non-perishable items for our grab-and-go packs
  • finding nutritious options that kids of all ages from multiple cultures would recognize, enjoy, and eat 
  • avoiding the risks and harms caused by items that trigger food allergies or go against religious beliefs

We soon realized that we needed to find a better way to reach food-insecure kids. When we explored current research for inspiration, here’s what we learned:

Based on this evidence and the results of our own research, it became very clear that food-insecure families simply prefer support that upholds their freedom to choose their own food with dignity. As a result, iCAN stopped providing food altogether in the fall of 2021 and transitioned to a year-round grocery gift card program as our sole vehicle of support. And the response from our recipients and agency partners has been overwhelmingly positive.

When you donate today, you restore a fundamental sense of humanity for food-insecure children and families in Calgary who can now choose the healthy foods they need and enjoy.

To join iCAN’s expanding list of sponsors and champions, check out the different ways you can get involved or donate

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 bobbi@icanforkids.ca.

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