Dignity, Control and a Cupboard No Longer Bare

With grocery gift cards over food hampers, Calgary’s I Can for Kids Foundation adopts a new approach to addressing hunger
May 22, 2023 2:15 PM ET
Two adults and a child looking at fresh vegetables in a grocery store.

Thanks to inquiring minds, 34,000 fewer young bellies were impacted by empty cupboards and empty stomachs in 2022.

I Can for Kids Foundation (iCAN) was formed in 2015 after a television segment on student hunger over the school summer break sparked an idea in the minds of co-founder Bobbi Turko and her daughter—what if we could do that here?

iCAN partners with 25 frontline social service agencies to address food insecurity in Calgary, and provide support to households with children. The organization started as a summer food program to support students who had lost access to lunch programs over the school break—but transformed dramatically amidst the onset of COVID-19 to provide grocery gift cards once a month to families.

“We evolved from offering the seasonal summer program to a year-round grocery gift card program—and our new approach is here to stay,” says Turko, who in addition to her co-founder status is also the executive director of the organization.

Paramount to the iCAN programming is data. The organization’s study with the University of Calgary analyzed the impact of grocery gift cards on the health and well-being of recipients, and the results reinforced both the advantages and preference for this type of support

“We don’t do anything just because we think it’s a good idea. We are steeped in research and everything we do is backed by evidence,” says Turko.

A particularly eye-opening finding from the study suggests that up to 70% of food received in hampers ends up discarded. Whether for dietary reasons, freshness or simply preference, providing grocery gift cards versus food provisions puts the control back in the hands of those in need.

“We’re disrupting a tradition 40 years in the making, but it’s actually a far more effective and efficient way of supporting people,” says Turko. “There are a variety of ways that our grocery gift cards impact families, from relieving financial stress to improving diet quality and reducing food waste.”

In 2022, Enbridge made a $15,000 Fueling Futures donation to I Can for Kids Foundation as part of our commitment to building vibrant and sustainable communities near our operations. The funding purchased grocery gift cards for families, supporting approximately 750 kids.

As pioneers—or at least early adopters—of the grocery gift card as a way of providing more dignified support to families in need, iCAN does not shy away from sharing the information gleaned from the University of Calgary study and other key research surrounding food insecurity in Canada.

“We feel very responsible with the research to share it as far and wide as we can,” says Turko. “At the end of the day, if the participants aren’t feeling that they’re receiving the best support available, then we have a responsibility as a member of this sector to do better.”

A host of information and data, including how to support the organization directly, can be found online.

“We are so fortunate to be able to share our findings with a community to help them realize that there are other opportunities for support and that maybe it’s time to change,” says Turko.

“How can we do better?”