Theses Doctoral

An Evaluation of the Food FARMacy Pantry Program

Raaen, Laura

Objective. The purpose of this study is to describe the effects of a food pantry program on household food security, diet and health during COVID-19 in the greater New York City area and to understand the facilitators and barriers to accessing this vital safety-net program. Methods. This study employed a three-stage design to evaluate clinical-community food pantry program, known as the Food FARMacy program, implemented to address food insecurity in New York City. Through this program three community organizations recruited participants to receive 40 pounds of fresh produce, whole grains, beans, rice and protein on a bi-weekly basis. Analysis one was a cross-sectional analysis of baseline data to understand food security, diet, and health in those registering for the Food FARMacy program. Analysis two was a longitudinal pre-post analysis comparing baseline data with 6-month follow-up data to determine the effects of food pantry participation on food security, diet, and health. Analysis three was a qualitative case study with program participants to understand their experience participating in the program, including key facilitators and barriers to participating in a food pantry program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data Analysis. For analysis one, descriptive statistics were used to report demographic, food security, diet and health characteristics upon program enrollment. X² tests and independent t-tests as well as multivariable regression models were used to examine predictors of very low food security status and food security score at enrollment. For analysis two, Wilcoxon signed rank and McNemar’s tests were used to identify changes in food security, diet, and health from baseline to six-months follow-up. Regression models were built to examine the association between attendance and food security status. For analysis three, a subset of 24 participants were interviewed using a semi-structured interview format to understand their lived experience with the program and barriers and facilitators to participating.

Results. Through this program, 492 participants were enrolled from July 2020 to April 2021 and provided with fresh, healthy food and beverages on a twice monthly basis. The majority of the enrollees reported low (42.3%) or very low (45.5%) food security status. At 6-months follow-up, the percent of those reporting very low food security status improved significantly from 45.5% to 13.2% (p < .001). Further, fruit intake two or more times per day increased from 23.7 to 35.1%, and the percent of those reporting no fruit intake decreased from 36.6 to 15.4% (p < .001). Vegetable intake two or more times in the previous day also increased from 21.5 to 41.8%, with the percent of those consuming no vegetables in the previous day declining from 32.6 to 13.2% (p < .001). The percent drinking two or more SSBs in the previous day decreased from 23.1 to 9.5% (p < .001). The percent of participants reporting excellent, very good or good health increased from 52.3 to 60.0%, while the percent reporting fair or poor health decreased from 48 to 40% from baseline to six-months follow-up (p = .017). Qualitative analysis revealed that participants valued the fresh, high-quality food that they could prepare themselves and caring customer service provided through the program. Transportation and access to childcare were reported as intermittent barriers to accessing the pantry program. Overall, participants reported very positive experiences with the program and improvements were noted in food security, diet, and health from baseline to 6-months follow-up.

Conclusions. Effective and sustainable solutions are needed to curb household food insecurity. Rapid development and implementation of an emergency food pantry program through an integrated healthcare system and community organization partnership was feasible and effectively reached high-need patients and community members. Pantry programs can be an effective mechanism for addressing disparities in food access and diet among vulnerable populations.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Behavioral Nutrition
Thesis Advisors
Koch, Pamela
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 29, 2023