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College of Arts and Sciences

Strengthening Charitable Food System Capability

— for Effective Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery
Investigators:  Liesel Ritchie, PI (Virginia Tech), Co-Investigators Nnenia Campbell (Bill Anderson Fund), Susan Cutter (University of South Carolina), Melanie Gall (Arizona State University) 

Project Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted issues that challenged the existing structures of the nation’s capacity for charitable food systems. The confluence of these health-related issues and the increasing frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters continue to alter the landscape of risk across the country. It is also altering the populations who are most vulnerable in times of disaster and putting untold pressures on Food Banks’ capacity to support their needs. The pandemic has uniquely exposed populations not typically considered vulnerable in the hazard and disaster literature—those we refer to in this proposal as the “New Vulnerable.” This group includes individuals that have experienced unanticipated economic hardship due to mitigation measures taken at local, state, and federal levels to stop the spread of the virus, as well as financial pressures that continue to manifest themselves in rising rates of inflation and the challenges of housing affordability. Due to these national crises, populations have, for the first time, sought resources from Food Banks and other direct service providers. We believe exploring what is driving social vulnerability in these communities via the inclusion of geographic, functionality (access, disability, etc.), and racial diversity qualitative and quantitative data is crucial to the success of disaster preparedness and strategic predictive planning. 

The project has three primary elements to the overall project: 1) identification of vulnerable populations and the existing capacity of Feeding America food banks to meet the needs of this population; 2) examination of factors influencing food bank capacities including social equity considerations and uptake of disaster planning tool resources by local food banks; 3) identify perspectives on the “new vulnerable” populations based on Food Bank, agency, and local volunteer perspectives. Throughout the project, we will continue to evaluate the planning tools developed in our prior work and their implementation in the furtherance of local resiliency.

The anticipated outcomes of the work will ensure that Feeding America and its national network of Food Banks have a comprehensive understanding of community needs and assets for leveraging more responsive and best practices in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Finally, the tools developed in prior work by the team will be adapted to the specific context and organizational capability of participating Food Banks to increase adoption of the tools for preparedness. The latter outcome includes remote training and improved training materials.

Funding: Feeding America

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