Since 2018, the Urban Institute has worked collaboratively with the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) to assess food insecurity and unmet needs for charitable food assistance in its service area. In mapping food insecurity and marginal food security rates, our goal was to help the food bank deepen its understanding of its diverse and rapidly evolving client base and to leverage new data sources and methods to determine how food hardship measures (both food insecurity and marginal food security) intersect with financial and health challenges residents face.
Overall, we found that food hardship varies substantially by neighborhood and that it tends to be associated with credit health and other community metrics such as health status and low-income rent burden. We also looked at how the food bank’s distribution network aligns with client needs, finding that more than 75 percent of residents experiencing food hardship live close to a food distribution site. Despite resident proximity to food distribution sites, interviews with focus groups of clients and other low-income community members potentially in need of services uncovered complexity, with transportation, long lines and wait times consistently flagged as significant barriers to accessing food. Additionally, we found many areas that lack access to convenient food distribution during evenings and weekends have relatively high food insecurity rates. These are areas that the ACCFB might look to expand services in the future.
The report also provides actionable steps for charitable food assistance providers to consider as they work to adapt how they operate for the twenty-first century, better reach people in need, and respond to new challenges such as rising housing costs that have broader relevance to communities beyond Alameda County.