Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Food security is defined as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2016). In 2015, an estimated 42.2 million Americans experienced food insecurity, that is, they struggled to feed themselves or their families due to low or insufficient incomes. Food insecure individuals must find alternative sources for food such as soup kitchens, shelters, federal nutrition benefits programs, and local food pantries. Food pantries, which rely on donations, fund-raising, and support from organized regional food banks, serve a wide variety of low-income clients: elderly, disabled individuals, homeless, and working families with young children. These client bases are very diverse, and the different demographic groups benefit from different types of outreach endeavors targeting health and mental health needs, nutrition education, or federal program assistance, among many others. Research into this issue is vital in order to determine the strategies most beneficial for populations in need.
During the spring of 2017, a URI undergraduate psychology class, Applied Methods in Psychological Research (PSY302), has been conducting research in food pantries across Rhode Island. Undergraduate students have visited 21 food pantries in 15 towns to administer a hunger research survey to food pantry clients. The survey contains a wide range of questions relating to where people get food, their level of food insecurity, and their ease of access to other community resources. The results of the survey will be used by the RI Community Food Bank and the associated pantries to identify future outreach programs that can best help their clients.
For my honors project, I have worked as part of the class project’s team. In the early stages of the project I assisted in designing the data collection plan and I was responsible for coordinating with local RI food pantries to facilitate the dates and times for student researchers’ visits. I also contributed to the overall curriculum of the course, working with the student researchers and providing outreach and diversity trainings.
The culmination of my project is a literature review on food insecurity and the current state of the food pantry system in the U.S, along with an overview of the current research and relevant findings. The perceptions and experiences of the student researchers is also highlighted in an attempt to capture how the experience of working in the community may have contributed to both their professional development and research skills, as well as their understanding of the challenges facing low income Rhode Island households.