The Exploratory Study of Consumers' Experience of Using Food Pantries and Their Self-Sufficiency and Quality of Life




Sims, Candice M.

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BACKGROUND: Food insecurity and consumers' chronic dependence on social welfare designed for emergency use has raised concern for food banks and food pantry directors who are interested in consumers' experience of using food pantries and their self-sufficiency during the period of relying on food pantries. In addition to knowing the demographic and socioeconomic status of consumers, there is still a need to understand consumers' satisfaction with food pantry services, experience of using a food pantry, self-sufficiency, motivation, and quality of life. These subjects were addressed in the present study. SUBJECTS: From 12 randomly selected food pantries in the greater Dallas area that are serviced by the North Texas Food Bank, 151consumers were surveyed, which included 112 females and 39 males. There were 51 Caucasians, 70 African Americans, 28 Hispanics and 2 other races/ethnicities. The average age of consumers surveyed was 44.45 (Range= 20-65, SD = 20.65). Additionally, a total of 28 surveys were completed by food pantry directors. The total sample included 17 female and 11 male directors. The average age of directors surveyed was 55.65 (Range= 27-69, SD= 12.82). Only 1 director (3.6%) reported being of Hispanic/Latino or Spanish origin. Twenty-three directors (82.1%) were Caucasian, three (10.7%) were African American, and one (3.6%) reported being American Indian or Alaska Native. METHODS: A descriptive research design was used. SPSS 19.0 was used to analyze the data. The following scales were used: Consumer Demographic Questionnaire, Food Pantry Services Questionnaire, Service Satisfaction Questionnaire, Food Pantry Use Reason Questionnaire, Service Perception and Emotion Questionnaire, Dependence Questionnaire, Stages of Change in Employment, Work Intention Scale, Life Crisis Solution Questionnaire, Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, and the SF-12. RESULTS: Around 40% (n=58) of consumers had a high school diploma and less than 11th grade education. Forty-seven consumers (31.1%) were currently unemployed and 40 (26.5%) unable to work. Thirty-nine consumers' income came from SSI (25.8%) and 23 consumers' (15.2%) income came from SSDI. Eighty-seven consumers' (57.6%) annual household income was under $11,999. Overall, consumers were satisfied with food pantry services and felt appreciated and relieved when receiving services and food. There was no significant difference of service satisfaction evaluation between directors and consumers. Their motivation of returning to work and being self-sufficient was moderate. Consumers' quality of life was significantly lower than the general population. However, there was a very significant difference in the way consumers and directors rated food pantry use reason importance (t(53.85)= -9.65, p = .000), with consumers' overall ratings being significantly lower than directors. DISCUSSION: Studies have shown that demographic factors such as household income, race, gender, marital status, employment and accessibility of social welfare are mediating factors for food insecurity and poverty. All of these factors contribute to increased reliance on food pantry services. The responses from consumers regarding their dependence on food pantries has supported the fact that consumers need assistance in finding good paying jobs, education in learning to budget, and classes where job skills can be learned. Additionally, in order to best serve food pantry consumers and to meet the ultimate goal of encouraging self-sufficiency, food pantry directors must understand their consumers' quality of life and the factors that contribute to it. IMPLICATIONS: The ability of the food bank's top-down approach to promote self-sufficiency has been questioned. Developing community initiatives that promote self-sufficiency through community development brings accountability and pride back into the community. At the center of this facilitation is the much-needed strong leadership of the directors, serving as life coaches to consumers.

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