Experiences of increased food insecurity, economic, and psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic among SNAP-enrolled food pantry clients

Robin T. Higashi, Anubha Sood, Ana Belen Conrado, Kathryn L. Shahan, Tammy Leonard, Sandi L. Pruitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective: The COVID-19 pandemic initially doubled the rates of food insecurity across the United States, and tripled rates among households with children. Despite the association among food insecurity, chronic disease and psychological distress, narratives depicting the experiences of already-food insecure populations are notably underrepresented in the literature. This study assessed the impact of COVID-19 on clients of a food pantry who were also enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Design: A qualitative study probing the effects of the pandemic on daily living, food needs, food buying, and food insecurity. Interview transcripts were analyzed using a combined deductive and inductive approach. Setting: Interviews were conducted via telephone between May-June of 2020. Participants: Equal numbers of English- and Spanish-speaking clients (n=40 total). Results: Three main findings emerged: (1) The pandemic increased economic distress, such as from job loss or increased utility bills due to sustained home occupancy; (2) The pandemic increased food needs, food prices and food shortages. In combination with economic stressors, this led to greater food insecurity; (3) Increased economic stress and food insecurity contributed to increased psychological stress, such as from fear of infection, isolation, and children being confined at home. Conclusions: Despite federal legislation and state and local programs to alleviate food insecurity, COVID-19 exacerbated economic hardship, food insecurity, and psychological distress among urban SNAP and food pantry clients. Additional research is needed to identify the most effective policies and programs to ameliorate the short- and long-term health and economic inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • coronavirus
  • food bank
  • food pantry
  • health impact
  • hunger
  • qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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