'We only do food' : social assumptions of poverty and the implementation of emergency food services
Food pantries are a critical social safety net for food insecure households, yet the growth of food pantry services in the United States has not been accompanied by an equal increase in research related to their organizational structuring. A state-wide survey of Missouri food pantries in the Feeding America network was conducted to investigate a) how food pantries are structured, b) the social assumptions of poverty that food pantry directors hold, and c) how these assumptions inform the structuring of services. Latent profile analysis of food pantry structuring identified a clear grouping of pantry service models, with results showing support for emerging food justice strategies to emergency food structuring. While past research has identified links between social beliefs and actions, food pantry director assumptions of poverty were not a strong predictor for food pantry structuring. Additionally, many key demographic indicators that have been previously associated with assumptions of poverty were not strong predictors for food pantry structuring. Results from this study highlight the complexity of how and why food pantries are structured in the ways that they are. While pantry directors identified a number of activities as 'important' to ideal pantry operations, the engagement with these activities at their pantries was often limited, with many not even providing referrals to community support organizations. Future research should focus on better understanding the complexity of what guides directors' organization of pantry services. Research should also extend to understanding the social assumptions that guide emergency food strategies at regional and state levels.
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