During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 24 million adults reported that their households sometimes or often lacked sufficient food in the last 7 days, with Black and Latino adults approximately 3 times as likely as White adults to report food insecurity.
The objective of this study was to assess the impact COVID-19 on food access in Rhode Island (RI), document challenges encountered, and identify promising practices and policy solutions by conducting individual, 1-hour key stakeholder interviews from September-November 2020.
Study Design, Settings, Participants
Virtual qualitative interviews (n = 25) were conducted with 33 key stakeholders from 25 community organizations located throughout RI. This includes state/city agencies (n = 9), nonprofit organizations (n = 5), Health Equity Zone representatives (n = 5), food pantries/food bank (n = 4), a home-delivered meal program (n = 1), and a FQHC (n = 1) that primarily serve low-income and racial/ethnic minority populations.
A structured interview guide was developed to capture scope of work, successes and challenges, and impact on health disparities including how organizations adjusted during COVID-19 to provide access to food safely. All interviews were recorded, transcribed, and thematically coded in NVivo with a priori codes to guide the analysis. An inductive and deductive approach was used to identify themes.
Preliminary findings suggest that organizations struggled to meet food needs due to unemployment, lack of culturally relevant foods, insufficient resources (ie, funding, personal protective equipment, technology), and exacerbation of existing food access challenges connected to transportation and food storage needs. Despite these challenges, reported successes included enhanced collaboration between new and existing partnerships among stakeholders, increased effective communication among community stakeholders and the populations they serve, and increases in new initiatives to support food access needs.
Our findings highlight the need to ensure a coordinated response through strategic leadership that has a focus on vulnerable racial/ethnic populations to ensure access to culturally appropriate food during emergency situations.