Guest post by Lindsay Johnson, Food Bank Program Director: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is one of six California food banks currently working with researchers from UC Berkeley who are documenting current nutrition-related policies and practices in relation to the provision of foods to low income families through emergency food services. This research is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Healthy Eating Research, 2010-2011.
In recent years, it has become apparent that many families rely on emergency food services for more than a few days each month, and there is concern about the healthfulness of food provided through emergency food pantries in light of the obesity epidemic and concerns about diet-related chronic disease. The emergency food system has been based on the distribution of shelf stable, low/no cost food for years. This food is frequently highly processed and contains large amounts of salt and sugar.
There are 3 components to the study. All Feeding America food banks were invited to participate in a national online survey in March assessing current organizational policies regarding the nutritional quality of the food provided. Six food banks, including Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, will have their food inventory data analyzed for the period 2007-2010 to evaluate whether actual foods received and distributed have changed during this period. As part of this second component, the research team will conduct short interviews with the Executive Directors of the Food Banks and key staff members regarding the provision of healthy foods. The third component will include food pantry visits at the end of May to five emergency food pantries at each of the six food banks for a total of 30 pantry visits. At the pantry visits, the pantry director will be interviewed, and a survey team will conduct a short interviewer-administered questionnaire with 15 randomly selected clients regarding their food preferences and pantry experiences.
Participating in this survey will provide the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano with client and pantry feedback, as well as giving us the opportunity to see how we compare with our peers with regard to providing nutritious food. This study will help us assess how effective and extensive our increased distribution of produce has been throughout the communities we serve. Information provided will help us with future decisions regarding the improvement of nutrition provided by the emergency food system.