Emergency Food Provision for Children and Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic



  • Urban Food Systems

COVID-19 Poses a Threat to Food Security

Low-income households face a higher risk of food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially families relying on food assistance programs.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Colorado State University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, the Sustainable Food Center, University at Albany and the UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin studied the effectiveness of emergency food provisions in five cities during the pandemic.

The results were published in an Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy article, “Emergency Food Provision for Children and Families during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Examples from Five US Cities.” Researchers found that the success of local programs depends on cross-sector collaboration, adaptable supply chains and addressing gaps in service to increased risk populations.

Factors Affecting the Success of Emergency Food Programs

During the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of clear guidance from the federal government on emergency food assistance programs forced local governments to devise a patchwork of plans to provide services to low-income families. The research team conducted interviews and focus groups with emergency food service providers in five cities—Albany, New York; Austin, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colorado and Flint, Michigan—to understand how decisions by schools, governments and other emergency food service providers impacted access to food.

The researchers discovered that the success of local responses to low-income food insecurity depended on three factors:

  1. Cross-sector collaboration: Cities with strong working relationships among stakeholders better supported food security efforts.
  2. Adaptable supply chains: Cities that could handle food shortages and distribution disruptions had success at feeding their vulnerable populations.
  3. Addressing gaps in service to increased risk populations: Prioritizing services to underserved communities decreases instances of food insecurity.

The researchers conclude that while different regional and local approaches to providing food security to low-income families and children is necessary to respond to specific contexts, greater guidance from the federal government may improve the effectiveness of the responses.

We hope that this research is useful in considering the tradeoffs associated with different types of responses as well and how to better prepare for future crises. Dr. Becca Jablonski
Assistant Professor and Food Systems Extension Economist, Colorado State University

More about this research

Our $482,642 investment in this research is an extension of our Tipping Points grant. The additional funding allows the grantees to examine the trade-offs with policy and programming interventions in response to COVID-19.


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