Impact of changes in the frequency of food pantry utilization on client food security and well‐being

Image of two people at a food bank

When clients receive food assistance one month and then skip the following month, some might assume that this is because the food assistance has fulfilled its intended mission and that the household who did not show up to receive food is no longer in need of emergency assistance. Our results suggest that this line of thinking may actually impede the effectiveness of food assistance. If the mission of food assistance is to reduce food insecurity, then programs that encourage consistent longer-term use of food pantries—such as pre-commitments to monthly attendance-- are important. Our study has large potential impact because the model pioneered in North Texas is scalable across numerous food bank networks in the US.

From the authors:

Tammy Leonard: For families struggling with food insecurity, consistent access to food pantry services is important.  However, social norms and program design of food pantries often suggest to clients that food pantry use should be temporary and reserved only for emergency situations.  Rethinking program design to intentionally encourage consistent use, may be critical for food pantries achieve the goal of helping their clients reach long-term food security.

Sandi Pruitt: It’s exciting to be able to generate evidence that supports a programmatic innovation in the food banking and food pantry system. Our data suggest that food assistance programs should encourage regular attendance; In our North Texas region, Crossroads Community Services has developed such a model and now we have robust evidence to demonstrate it works to improve well-being.

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