Research Report Improving Food Security and Access in Arlington County, Virginia: Mixed-Methods Analyses and Recommendations
Kassandra Martinchek, Theresa Anderson, Poonam Gupta, Fernando Hernandez-Lepe, Alena Stern, Amy Rogin
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In Arlington County, Virginia, an estimated 7.8 percent of households experienced food insecurity in 2019. In 2021, the Urban Institute partnered with the Arlington County Food Security Task Force to evaluate food insecurity and access to nutritious, healthy, and culturally appropriate food within and across Arlington County. We found the following:

  • Food insecurity is concentrated in south and east Arlington County, especially the Glencarlyn, Buckingham/Ashton Heights, Pentagon City, Crystal City South, Forest Glen/Arlington Mill, and Crystal City North neighborhoods.
  • Households experiencing food insecurity had substantial difficulty paying expenses, and food budgets were often the first to be cut in times of financial hardship, especially as increasing inflation put upward pressure on households’ food costs.
  • Most residents, especially those with high estimated food insecurity, had access to a SNAP retailer—a grocery store or other non–convenience store retail food outlet authorized to redeem SNAP benefits—within a 40-minute roundtrip travel time. This means that SNAP retailers were close to households in need and that transportation systems connected households adequately to retail food, although some residents still faced challenges in affording and finding culturally appropriate foods when shopping and affording transportation.
  • Most charitable food sites in Arlington County were open year-round, but fewer than 1 in 5 offered weekly service and evening or weekend hours. In particular, the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas had relatively high estimated food insecurity rates compared with the rest of the county and low access to existing charitable food resources.
  • About half of residents who were experiencing food insecurity at the time of the survey reported using free groceries or meals. Residents reported that the cost of transportation, pride, and stigma may be a barrier to accessing free groceries and meals.
  • Survey data show Black and Hispanic/Latinx respondents reported significantly higher rates of food insecurity than white respondents and that Asian households with low incomes had to travel further to access charitable food sites.

Arlington County had many resources available for residents to meet their food needs but could make improvements to the retail food environment, charitable food resources, and housing and financial assistance programs to improve food security and access for all residents.

For a short summary of the core findings and recommendations, see the fact sheet.

This report was revised on April 7, 2022, to acknowledge the significant role that the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) played in sharing data, providing information on their services and the local community, and supporting survey completion, which made this research possible.

We also clarified that nonprofits and other organizations distribute free groceries and meals in Arlington County but the county itself does not, and that residents can get a referral for AFAC services from Arlington Public Schools and other safety net nonprofits. 

Research Areas Families Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Social safety net
Tags Economic well-being Emergency food networks Hunger and food assistance Food deserts and food supply Food insecurity and hunger Families with low incomes Racial barriers to accessing the safety net Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population Income and Benefits Policy Center
States Virginia
Counties Arlington County
Cities Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV