Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

Characteristics of Short and Long-Term Food Pantry Users

Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

Characteristics of Short and Long-Term Food Pantry Users

Article excerpt


Food insecure households in the United States seek assistance from both public assistance and private community programs. This research examines the needs of those accessing services from a county network of food pantries in Michigan. Interviews with a stratified sample of 104 pantry users identified two distinct groups accessing food: those who began visiting food pantries within the last 24 months (over half of whom were also recently unemployed); and long-term users who are more likely to also use government programs like food stamps and WIC. Findings suggest food pantries are serving more than emergency food needs, and are responding to the food needs of two separate types of households.


Many Americans use both food banks and pantries to meet their household nutritional needs (Bahattrai, Duffy and Raymond 2005; Berner, Ozer, and Paynter 2008; Daponte, Lewis, Sanders and Taylor 1998; Duffy, Irimia-Vladu, Cashwell, Bartkowski, Molnar and Casanova 2006). Simply being on government assistance, like food stamps, does not supply enough food for a family (Berner et al. 2008). Families needing food assistance are likely to turn to either public or private assistance. Public assistance is entirely government funded, such as the food stamp program in which families and individuals using food stamps are given this funding and may only spend it on food items. Private assistance programs, the second category of programs, include food pantries and are sometimes provided by government funding; however private donations and community support are their main funding sources (Daponte, Haviland and Kadane 2004). Food pantries fall within this category of programs.

Food insecurity exists when some members of a family or household limit their intake of food, or their normal eating patterns are adjusted to provide more food to other household members (Nord, Coleman- Jensen, Andrews and Carlson 2010). Beginning in 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture divided food insecurity into two groups, "low food security" and "very low food security" (USDA 2007 in Berner et al. 2008). Families who are experiencing food insecurity often report trouble acquiring enough food for their family because of finances and families might reduce food intake in order for there to be enough food for all (Berner et al. 2008). In 2004, 24.3 million adults and 13.9 million children were living in food-insecure households (Berner et al. 2008). In 2010, 14.5 percent of households experienced some level of food insecurity in the US; including 5.4 percent who were experiencing very low food security. Households experiencing very low food security typically needed to adjust their food intake for a period of days for at least seven months out of the year. Additionally, the number of households with children experiencing low food security decreased between 2009 and 2010 from 10.6 percent to 9.8 percent (Coleman- Jensen, Nord, Anderson, and Carlson 2011).

Food stamps began as a government program in the 1960s and became a national program by the 1970s (Bahattari et al. 2005). Nationally, food stamp usage declined between 1994 and 1996 from 27.5 to 18.2 million recipients (Bahattari et al. 2005). While the factors for this decline vary; one reason considered was that families were turning to private sources to meet their food needs, no longer needing food stamps (Bahattari et al 2005). However, food pantries are used by families to supplement the use of food stamps, and research suggests a positive correlation between food stamp users and food pantry users (Bahattari et al. 2005; Daponte 2000). Using these two types of programs still may not alleviate hunger, as families who are using both food stamps and food pantries are more likely to be experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity is even more likely when children are part of the household, or have a single parent (Bahattari et al. 2005; Daponte 2000). Further, the use of both food stamps and food pantries is more likely for non-metropolitan households (Bahattari et al. …

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