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P041 Higher Education Students’ Perspectives on Using an Urban On-campus Food Pantry During COVID-19: A Qualitative Study

      Background

      The rate of food insecurity (FI) in those pursuing higher education is three times higher than the national average. Many institutions have established food pantry (FP) programs in response to widespread campus FI. The pandemic has amplified financial stress for students and has altered many on-campus policies. Little is known about higher education students’ use of food pantries during COVID-19.

      Objective

      To explore the motivators and barriers that influence higher education students’ use of FPs during COVID-19.

      Study Design, Setting, Participants

      Eighteen unmarried/single undergraduate and graduate students at a private university in New York City who used an on-campus FP were interviewed by using a semi-structured script from April to October 2021.

      Measurable Outcome/Analysis

      Taking an inductive approach, audio-recorded interviews were transcribed and coded using NVivo v12. Four researchers collaboratively developed the codebook and used thematic analysis to identify themes and subthemes.

      Results

      While FP use was initially motivated by financial incentives and pre-pandemic FP experience, these motivations were reinforced by positive interactions with volunteers, satisfaction with food items, and COVID-19 safety protocols. However, students encountered several barriers that limited FP use, including eligibility concerns, logistical and communication issues, and lack of food variety. In addition, feelings of stigma, level of FI awareness, and familiarity with the US food system were major determinants of FP use. Notably, students with pre-pandemic FP experience identified assistance more quickly, expressed more complex feelings, and demonstrated a deeper understanding of FI than novice FP users.

      Conclusions

      The motivators and barriers of FP use during COVID-19 were influenced by students’ pre-pandemic experiences with FI. This study reveals that the on-campus FP requires systemic support to reduce FI stigma and increase food access. Furthermore, these findings indicate the need for more holistic institutional and governmental support for FI in higher education.

      Funding

      None

      SUPPLEMENTARY DATA

      Supplementary data related to this article can be found at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2022.04.081.

      Appendix. SUPPLEMENTARY DATA