Between paying for heating, needing to buy appropriate outerwear, and potentially planning an entire holiday celebration, winter is always an expensive season to get through. Add the rising cost of living to that equation and there is no doubt that people will feel it in their wallets this year.
Now, imagine experiencing winter and rising costs as a vulnerable person with health challenges and special dietary needs. An initiative of the Victoria Cool Aid Society has done just that.
The organization’s grocery gift card program - launched in 2019 - is increasingly available through Cool Aid’s Community Health Centre and health outreach efforts to people who struggle to afford the food they need for their unique health conditions.
"Many of our clients have digestive, circulatory or oral health issues that require special diets or fresh ingredients to cook healthy meals," says Lori Angelini, director of philanthropy and community engagement for Cool Aid.
“For example, a person with diabetes won't benefit from a meal rich in carbohydrates and sugars in the same way that somebody without that chronic illness would. In fact, eating a meal like that could do more harm than good.”
Community Health outreach client, “John”, recently used his gift cards to buy soft foods after having some dental work done. He was able to get a slow-cooker and excitedly reported that he had made delicious "fall off the bone" ribs on his first night after receiving his grocery card, saying it was the first comforting meal he had since getting his dental work done.
"There are resources for people to access food, like meal programs, food banks, soup kitchens and grocery hampers," explains Angelini. "But there's a significant number of low-income people with serious dietary needs due to their health conditions that aren't always accommodated through those kinds of things."
Angelini added that the gift card program distributed more than 4,700 cards last year alone and that they are looking to provide 1,000 cards to vulnerable individuals in the Greater Victoria community this winter.
“People who are on low-income have very few choices in life compared to the average person,” Angelini says. “These gift cards not only help get the adequate nutrition they need, but they also provide the ability to go out into the community and do their own shopping. Choice and autonomy can help to provide the dignity that most of us take for granted.”
Since 1968, the Victoria Cool Aid Society has worked to support people experiencing homelessness in the community. Originating as an emergency shelter for youth, the organization has continued to expand, now offering a wide array of services to those impacted by poverty, colonization, stigma and homelessness.
If you’d like to support the gift card initiative and make a donation to help combat food insecurity in Greater Victoria, visit coolaid.org/ways-to-help/buy-a-giftcard.