What’s Really Happening in… Food Pantries

Chances are you know what a food bank or pantry is. Maybe you have volunteered for one. They are free food distribution organizations whose sole purpose is to alleviate hunger. And they accomplish their purpose well by giving a lot of food to a vast number of needy people.

Although they do a lot of good to get food to hungry people, there are three gaps.

It’s not always nutritious food.

Hunger is relieved by a food pantry to the detriment of a healthy diet.

You might ask, isn’t it better to have a full meal of filling, but unhealthy food than to have no food at all?

We would agree. However, the type of food provided by food pantries can actually do more harm in the long term than good.

Because a food bank receives large quantities of donated food to distribute to food pantries and has to store the food for long periods of time, they typically can only receive non-perishable food items. Their shelves are stacked high with canned goods and processed foods but rarely with fruits and vegetables.

In fact, according to a UAMS study published in the journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which surveyed 357 food pantries representing 5 food banks across Arkansas, only 18.5% of food pantries had written nutrition guidelines.

Food pantry participants can receive food that perpetuates their chronic diet-related illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Consequentially, this can increase their medical bills. The excess total healthcare cost associated with food insecurity is $1,607 per food-insecure adult in Arkansas, according to Feeding America.

However, a food [pantry] hand-out makes up a large portion of the diet of 5% of US households because it is the only source that is affordable.

More families have turned to food assistance programs for help with rising food costs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, grocery prices rose 5.4% since October 2020. And meats, poultry, fish, and eggs rose by a combined total of 10.5% from Sept 2020 to Sept 2021.

Not everyone has access to food banks.

To make the situation even more complex, another portion of US households do not have the physical capability to get to a free food distribution location due to a handicap or unreliable transportation.

Pantries can perpetuate food waste and often do not promote the dignity of choice.

Only 19.3% of food pantries in Arkansas offer client choice. That means that most food pantry participants do not select the food they take home, so their bag may be full of food they may not like or want, increasing the food they will end up wasting.

Here is where Well Fed is uniquely prepared to help.

We have a video series called Q&A Thursday, where our executive director, Josh Harris, explains terms related to the food access system to help you learn more! To start the series, Josh explains the “gaps” in our current food access system and how Well Fed is on a mission to fill them.

Take a look!

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