A Calgary warehouse was packed with more than 70 volunteers Friday, excitedly waiting to do their part for the charity I Can for Kids.
“All right everybody, let’s get started!” 15-year-old Sutton Garner yells.
You read that right. Garner is only 15 and I Can for Kids is her charity. She and mom, Bobbi Turko, founded it together over four years ago.
“In 2015, when I was 11 years, my mom and I were watching Good Morning America and they aired a story about kids in the States going hungry over the summer when they lost access to their school nutrition program,” explained Garner, adding she wondered if the same was true in Calgary.
“So we did some research and we found out that 5,000 kids rely on school nutrition programs [and] don’t have that same access to a free meal during the summer months,” she said.
That’s when the mother-daughter duo decided to do something about it. I Can for Kids was established and quickly began to grow.
The charity is about to embark on its fifth and busiest summer of delivering snacks and meals to kids who need them.
“We’ve grown 550 per cent since 2015 and if we knew we would have been there then like, I mean we wouldn’t have changed a thing but it was, it was not expected,” said Garner.
This summer, the charity is prepared to deliver 70,000 meals and 100,000 snacks to all quadrants of the city over a 10-week period.
The demand is high but volunteers have been lining up to help. There currently is a waitlist.
Leanne Courchesne is the Community Group Lead at Cenovus Energy and says her company has no problem finding employees who want to donate their time to I Can for Kids.
“Cenovus Energy has a community investment program where we give back to some key focus areas and this is a great fit of giving back to our focus areas of where we live and work and building skills and giving youth a chance,” said Courchesne.
She added Cenovus has been actively involved with I Can for Kids for the last three years, donating both time and money to the charity.
I Can for Kids works with various social service agencies who identify kids in need and distribute the food packs the charity prepares for them.
Calgary’s fire department and police service have also become involved with I Can for Kids in recent years.
“We recognized that it took a lot of sweat equity to put these bags together and they needed volunteers,” CPS Insp. Michael Watterston said.
Both agencies help with packing food but they’re also active in its distribution. Together with Warner and other I Can volunteers, the groups will host “play days” where they head into communities armed with food packs and the goal of connecting with residents.
“We’re part of the fabric of this community and this is a great initiative obviously that helps some pretty vulnerable people through some tough times,” said Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth.
The collaboration and partnerships have helped the charity accomplish even more than initially intended.
“People always come for food and when you notice those people who need it, they often need other things and that’s where our agency partners can step in and offer other resources that are available.”
At just 15, Garner has accomplished much and says the most rewarding part of running the charity is seeing the effect it has on the kids they serve.
“Seeing them so happy, it’s heart-warming.”