New Research Study: Emergency Food Organizations Reevaluate Efforts Post-Pandemic

-WhyHunger and Duke University World Food Policy Center Release Preliminary Results of COVID-19 Impact on Hunger Relief Organizations – 

PLUS: 53 Percent of Food Banks Shifted Practices to Address Racial Inequities in the Food System

New York (May 13, 2021) – WhyHunger—a leader in the movement to end hunger and advance the human right to nutritious food in the U.S. and around the world— and the Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center at Duke University, today released preliminary results from their research study: ‘Impact of COVID-19 On Hunger Relief Organizations’. The survey of over 200 anti-hunger relief organizations throughout the U.S. offers a holistic view of their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic to address barriers to providing access to food, as well as potential long-term shifts and recommended systematic changes.

According to the study, while 79 percent of emergency food organizations reported an increase in demand for existing services, 54 percent had to suspend services that went beyond soliciting and distributing food (such as community meals and school-related programming) due to safety restrictions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 67 percent of organizations say they had fewer volunteers. Only 30 percent of organizations surveyed noted they were open with additional services including curbside pickup, food delivery and/or drop-off.

“Food insecurity rates, which were already high, skyrocketed across the country because of COVID-19. Our emergency food system was pushed to the brink – and it is clear that the status quo of food distribution is not a suitable solution to this growing, and chronic, condition,” said Alison Cohen, senior director of programs at WhyHunger. “Our preliminary findings underscore what so many on the frontlines of our nation’s anti-hunger efforts already know — providing access to nutritious food in times of crisis is critical but in order to truly end hunger and food insecurity in the U.S., our emergency feeding system needs to fundamentally shift its approach to addressing the root causes of hunger, rooted in social, environmental, racial and economic justice.”

During the pandemic 23 percent of organizations started advocacy and policy efforts to address root causes. And, moving beyond the pandemic, on average most organizations indicated they would start or continue to implement root cause programming that goes beyond food distribution. The largest percentage increases were seen in the following activities:  fair wage and advocacy campaigns (11 percent increase) and leadership development with clients (a 10% increase).  Other advocacy work, organizing and helping clients apply for benefits also saw increases.

Additional topline findings include:

  • Addressing Racial Inequities: In regard to root cause work, 35 percent of frontline organizations, 52 percent of advocacy organizations and 53 percent of food banks say they shifted their practices to address racial inequities in the food system.
  • COVID-19 Barriers: When trying to meet rising needs during the pandemic, organizations faced the barriers of loss of volunteer base due to risk (71 percent), lack of refrigeration space from an increase in perishable food (63 percent), lack of transportation for clients (49 percent) and lack of a government coordinated response (42 percent).
  • Demographic Shifts: As COVID impacted the economy, 77 percent of organizations reported they saw more unemployed clients, 67 percent reported that they saw more first-time clients, 61 percent reported they saw more housing insecure clients.
  • Problems in the Food System: Organizations identified problems with the food system at large as inequitable access to fresh, healthy food (80 percent), the undervaluing of essential food workers and their safety (75 percent), food affordability (72 percent) and structural racism (61 percent).
  • Additional Services: Pre-pandemic, many organizations had expanded their strategies and offerings to include nutrition education, medically tailored meals, client choice, support in helping clients get access to government nutrition programs such as SNAP, gardening and food preservation classes. Since the pandemic, 55 percent of organizations report they have replaced client choice models with pre-packed foods, which denies recipients both the nutritionally and culturally appropriate food they require.

“It is important to celebrate the success of the essential workers and volunteers at these institutions who have managed, despite the odds, to connect their neighbors with food during the most difficult times. However, we must listen closely to their call for transformation in how we address the underlying causes of hunger in the first place and the need to build a food system that is equitable and just. As anti-hunger organizations center advocacy for living wages, dismantling racism, programming informed by their clients, and pursue action to collectively strike at hunger and its root causes, we will be one step closer to ending hunger and food insecurity once and for all,” added Cohen.

Additional results and a full report published by the Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center will be issued later this year. For the study’s preliminary analysis and findings please visit: and

This research survey was conducted among a national sample of 242 anti-hunger organizations, including food banks, advocacy organizations and frontline organizations spanning across U.S. Participating organizations represented varying geographies, ages, and budgets, with the majority operating for over 10 years and at the local or regional levels. The study was conducted between the months of August-November in 2020.


About WhyHunger
Founded in 1975 by the late Harry Chapin and radio DJ Bill Ayres, WhyHunger believes a world without hunger is possible. We provide critical resources to support grassroots movements and fuel community solutions rooted in social, environmental, racial and economic justice. A four-star rated charity by Charity Navigator, with highest ratings for excellence in fiscal management accountability and transparency, WhyHunger is working to end hunger and advance the human right to nutritious food in the U.S. and around the world. 86 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to programmatic work. Learn more at and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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