Food banks are a relatively recent private, nonprofit
response to changes in the welfare system and the
growing recognition that hunger is a real and relatively
widespread problem. The growing reliance on private
food assistance makes it increasingly important that
information be gathered on how private food banks
operate and on the needs of the client and potential
client base for these institutions.
This study focuses on the East Alabama Food Bank
(EAFB), which is part of the Second Harvest system
of food banks. It serves several counties in east central
Alabama and covers a mix of rural and urban communities.
Through probability-in-proportion-to-size methods,
Molnar et al. randomly selected six rural and six
urban member agencies of the EAFB. They focused
specifically on food pantries that distribute food for
home preparation and consumption. They developed a
case study of these agencies through site visits and
interviews with directors.
The authors also conducted face-to-face interviews of
a sample of over 200 low-income community residents,
including food bank users and nonusers. They
collected data on demographic characteristics, economic
characteristics, reasons for their need for food
assistance, level of “food insecurity,” transportation
needs and availability, history of food pantry use, perceived
obstacles to food pantry use, and use of government
programs such as food stamps or Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families.
Molnar et al. examined their survey results for differences
in urban and rural responses. A large portion of
the total sample had children under 18 years old living
at home. Many respondents were single mothers. A
sizable subgroup of rural pantry users were elderly
people. The majority of respondents had incomes less
than $15,000 per year, with rural residents somewhat
more likely to be in the lowest income brackets.
Food pantry users reported a high level of satisfaction
with the services received. Transportation to the pantry
site was a problem at least sometimes for a quarter of
pantry users both in rural and urban locations. The
biggest obstacle for nonusers appeared to be lack of
knowledge. A central finding of the study is the high
degree of variability in the operation of the different
food pantries within the EAFB system.