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Current Nonprofit Research
How can data help with assessing food insecurity?
COVID-19 has brought a perfect storm of challenges to many nonprofits, especially human service nonprofits, such as food relief providers, due to: (i) increased demand/greater food insecurity; (ii) strain on resources; (iii) greater difficulty in logistics and distribution of food. Nonprofits need better tools to assess need and then direct services to the hardest hit areas.
Teresa Harrison, PhD, and Neville Vakharia, PhD, collected information on all known food distribution sites operating in the summer of 2020 in the five-county Philadelphia metropolitan region and key demographic data, particularly data related to food insecurity. They developed a more accurate index of food insecurity: number of residents in need per food distribution site to simultaneously account for need AND food relief providers in the local community.
Summer 2020 Food Relief Need and Identified Gaps
In the five-county Philadelphia region, Harrison and Vakharia found¹:
- 815 food distribution sites with eight sites per zip code
- Of the eight, there were on average two food cupboards, 3.5 for student distribution, one for senior distribution and the remaining a variety of neighborhood distribution sites
- 6,500 individuals per zip code living in SNAP households, which is a strong measure of food insecurity
- This implies there are 434 people in need for every food distribution site
- Urban and suburban settings tell a surprising story
- Need is around two times as high in urban areas but there are approximately nine times more food providers/distribution sites in Philadelphia proper
- This may suggest a shift to more provision in suburban areas but more analysis would be needed
- The food insecurity heat density map shows considerable geographical variation: the areas of Coatesville and Northeast Philadelphia may need additional support relative to other areas
Next Phase of Project
Harrison and Vakharia seek to build out this tool and its subsequent analysis with the following goals in mind:
- Develop an online platform to ensure usability and accessibility for funders, executives and boards and sharing of information between providers
- Refine our diagnostics to increase relevance and impact for identifying underserved areas
- Identify specific service corridors through a survey of food relief providers
- Secure funding to both support this phase of the project and adapt this platform to expand to other nonprofit service areas or other locales
¹Data was collected from multiple websites and confirmed through independent queries of government programs. The sample includes food cupboards and all known actively operating food distribution sites in the Philly region.