The Influence of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Food Supply in the Emergency Food System: A Case Study at 2 Food Pantries

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Oxford Academic


Background. The onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic increased demand for emergency food assistance and has caused operational shifts in the emergency food system. Objective. This research explored how the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the food supply of 2 food pantries. Methods. A case study approach was applied to collect data during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food supply data were collected weekly at 2 food pantries in southwest Montana for 17 wk in 2020. Surveys and interviews were conducted with food pantry clients and staff, respectively. Descriptive statistics and inferential statistics were applied to analyze quantitative data. Food supply data were analyzed using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2015, NOVA system, and Unprocessed Pantry Project (UP3) Framework. Thematic analysis was applied to qualitative data. Results. The food boxes collected between the 2 food pantries (n = 43) had a mean (± SD) total HEI-2015 score of 76.41 ± 7.37 out of a possible score of 100. According to both the NOVA and the UP3 Framework, 23.4% of the total food distributed was ultra processed food. Of the food distributed, 50.0% and 48.3% was fresh, unprocessed food according to NOVA and UP3 Frameworks, respectively. From staff interviews, 3 themes arose that describe the food pantry operations that experienced change during the COVID-19 pandemic, including food procurement, distribution preparation, and food distribution. Nine supporting subthemes describing the causes and consequences of the operational themes were identified. Staff perceived that the nutrient quality of the food boxes increased from food distributed previously to the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas over one-third (39.4%) of food pantry clients who responded to surveys preferred the food box model. Conclusions. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous operational challenges within food pantries. Food pantries overcame these challenges by swiftly and effectively altering operations so as to continue to distribute nutritious food boxes to pantry clients.


Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Nutrition. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact


emergency food network, food pantries, COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity, food quality, ultra-processed food


LeeAnna Larison, Carmen Byker Shanks, Eliza Webber, Brianna Routh, Selena Ahmed, The Influence of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Food Supply in the Emergency Food System: A Case Study at 2 Food Pantries, Current Developments in Nutrition, Volume 5, Issue 10, October 2021, nzab115,
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