Autism Calgary Food Pantry and Emergency Food Hamper Programs

The Cause

Every month Autism Calgary assists individuals and families who struggle to buy food, household and hygiene essentials. Therefore in late 2018 Autism Calgary started a small Food Pantry program. Since the COVID-19 pandemic we have experienced a surge in not only demand for food for also a sudden surge in emergency food demand from families desperately needing assistance to feed their families but unable to access our food pantry due to transportation and other barriers. We are therefore seeking assistance to increase our Food Pantry Program and begin a new Emergency Food Hamper Project for our most vulnerable families and community members.

The Food Pantry Expansion will allow us to provide more food to eligible pantry participants. Due to funding restrictions the amount of food we have been able to provide to participants has been decreasing. We would like to be able to provide eligible families with 6 hampers in each 12 month period. We would also like to increase the fresh produce we are able to provide in the Food Pantry to ensure every family has access to the nutritious food they need to thrive! As the COVID-19 pandemic continues not only do more families struggle financially in the ASD community but many are becoming increasingly isolated. Many individuals with ASD have other co-morbid health conditions (eg. epilepsy, gastrointestinal issues, etc.) which lead to an immuno-compromised health status. This means that even going to the grocery store is a stressful experience for these families.

The emergency Food Hamper Project we would also like to begin will allow us to provide a hamper of food and household essentials to our most vulnerable families - right on their doorstep. Some families not only struggle with food but the cost of transportation has also become a challenge. In addition taking public transit to our location with a child on the autism spectrum has been a barrier for some families. Therefore we propose to provide 50 hampers to our most in need families which will be delivered to their doorstep by volunteers and staff. These hampers will not only have a variety of food and household essentials (based on the ages and needs of the family) but will also include brochures about our services, and other information for services that we deem may be useful for their unique situation.

Who Will it Benefit?

The expanded Food Pantry Program and the Emergency Hamper Project will serve adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) living in the community and families caring for children (or adult children) with ASD.

Many of these families who access our Pantry Program have tried to utilize the Food Bank as well as other food resources in the city with great difficulty. Due to the high caregiving needs of children with ASD and the unpredictable nature of the disorder, visiting the foodbank and other food resources can be extremely problematic. In addition many of these families face multiple marginalization due to other vulnerabilities such as being a new immigrant to Canada, disability of parents, social isolation due to ASD, etc. Therefore having a food hamper available at our centre - an autism friendly community resource centre that the families already visit with - will dramatically increase their access to food resources. In addition the Calgary Food Bank only provides a maximum of seven hampers per year to any individual or family.
For independent or semi-independent adults with ASD their social, communication and executive functioning impairments often prevent them from successfully accessing food resources, even with our staff’s referral and direct support. Accessing the Food Bank and other food resources requires understanding specifically what food they are eligible to receive, interacting with staff, volunteers and other clients appropriately, properly describing their needs and battling crowded, loud and malodorous environments (which are exacerbated by their sensory processing impairments). All of these requirements act as a barrier for these individuals due to their autism related impairments. We have many adults struggling with less than adequate food because they have had such difficulty in accessing community food resources.

These individuals and families also have a high incidence of poverty due to several complex factors related to ASD. Recent research from the University of Calgary has demonstrated that “the value of caregiver time required to support that individual is approximately $5.5 million higher than that for someone without autism”. In fact the study also states that when a family receives an ASD diagnosis for a child of two years old, it is the “equivalent of telling the family that they must make an immediate lump-sum investment on that day of $1.6 million, invested at a five-per-cent return, to pay for the lifetime costs of care".