Characterizing Food Access in America: Considering the Role of Emergency Food Pantries in Areas without Supermarkets
This study provides a more comprehensive depiction of the environment in which low-income households and other vulnerable populations acquire and purchase food by considering access to emergency food pantries in areas lacking supermarkets. The locations of food pantries were mapped against the map of supermarkets in 47 states and the District of Columbia to identify local areas without supermarkets and the percentage of these areas that have a pantry. Local area population characteristics were used to define subgroups of areas based on poverty level and socioeconomic status of households. The study found that food pantries help to address food access limitations in a sizable percentage of area without supermarkets. About one quarter of census tracts with no supermarkets were found to have at least one food pantry. When considering only high-poverty tracts, 40% of areas without a supermarket had a pantry. The study also found that among areas without supermarkets, pantries tend to be located in areas with higher rates of poverty and lower socioeconomic status. These findings highlight the important role that pantries play in ensuring access to food for low-income American families and also underscore the importance of taking these programs into account when examining the extent of food access limitations.