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1 in 5 of us knows the struggle of living with food insecurity

Hunger is that unpleasant physical sensation that all of us feel when we haven’t eaten enough. Food insecurity is the psychological stress, social isolation, and poor health that a person endures when they lack the income to access enough healthy food on a regular basis.

That’s why I Can for Kids (iCAN) transitioned from a summer food program to a grocery gift card program. We wanted to empower food-insecure families to choose the foods they need to feed their children. And we’ve created ways for you to help or get involved.

iCAN is always inspired by everyone’s compassionate desire to help when they witness children and families going hungry in our city. Yet you may not be aware how access to charitable food programs has no lasting impact on the financial barriers that cause and prolong food insecurity. This is why low-income populations are more vulnerable to the serious physical, social, and mental harms caused by food insecurity. It is also unlikely that you will ever notice how food-insecure households hide the prolonged isolation and emotional hardship they endure while trying to subsist on too little money to meet all their basic needs.

Research shows that not all food-insecure households experience hunger because they expend great amounts of energy to obtain enough calories to appease their physical needs. They stave off hunger by developing various survival strategies, such as:

  • borrowing food

  • delaying bill payments

  • working for food

  • selling personal items for food

  • dumpster diving

  • buying or receiving donations of low-cost, low-nutrient, and high-calorie foods, including macaroni and cheese, sweetened peanut butter, chocolate bars, candy, juice, or canned meals

It’s also important to note that food insecurity is not the result of poor food or financial skills. Most food-insecure households have good basic cooking skills and shop within a tighter budget compared to households with adequate income. Our own research shows that our clients use grocery gift cards to maximize the food they buy through sales, price matching programs, and bulk purchases. In fact, studies in Canada show that food-insecure households spend less money on everything and prioritize their basic needs, particularly rent and food.

One family who accessed our support explained: “It was harder before we received grocery gift cards because we would run out of milk faster. We would run out of the basic needs faster. We'd have to wait until payday to buy more food, or we’d have to reach out and ask others for help. But now we don't have to.”

We’d love it if you could help us out by joining our growing list of champions, sharing this post, or responding with your thoughts, ideas, or comments. Check out the ways you can get involved or donate.

To learn more about I Can for Kids and our unique approach to childhood food insecurity, visit

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

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