Rising food insecurity and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on emergency food assistance in Michigan





White, Black, People of Color, Urban, Rural, Charity, Food Bank, Food Pantry, Soup Kitchen, Shelter, COVID-19, Pandemic, Staff, Professional Development, Career, Disaster Planning, Emergency Planning, Food Policy


This study of eight types of emergency food assis­tance organizations in Michigan, USA, is the first statewide study of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on the operations of these organizations. It focuses on the following question: How did the pandemic affect the operations of emergency food assistance organizations? The paper examines how the race/ethnicity of the organization’s director was related to program activities, the pandemic’s impacts, and responses to the pandemic. It offers new insights into emergency food assistance organ­izations operated by Black and multicultural direc­tors. The article examines how the sex of the emer­gency food assistance directors is related to pro­gramming, the pandemic’s impacts, and responses to it. Most studies of emergency food assistance focus on urban areas. In addition to studying organizations in the state’s metropolitan areas, we also study organizations in small towns and rural areas. The paper also analyzes two additional ques­tions: How did the government support the state’s emergency food assistance organizations during the pandemic? And how do organization leaders per­ceive government responses to the pandemic?

The sample consists of 181 emergency food assistance organizations. Whites directed most organizations; 82.9% had a primary director who was White, 11% had Black directors, and 6.1% had directors from other racial/ethnic groups. The organizations studied are long-lived; they have been operating for a mean of 20.8 years. The organizations serve meals to an average of 79 peo­ple per day. They also provide food items to roughly 185 people daily.

The pandemic had profound effects on the operations of emergency food assistance organiza­tions. About 28% of the organizations indicated that they cut back on their programming, and just over a fifth of the organizations limited their oper­ating hours. Moreover, 23% of the organizations reported that the number of restaurants donating food declined, while 18% percent reported a decline in supermarket food donations. However, 58.9% of the organizations increased the amount of food they distributed, and 61.3% reported an increase in the number of people seeking food from the organization. During the pandemic, White-run organizations obtained government funding from 19 sources, multicultural-led organi­zations got government support from 10 sources, and Black-run organizations received support from three sources. Forty percent of directors in all-Black-run organizations, 23.5% of those in multira­cial-led organizations, and 22.6% of the directors in all-White-led organizations criticized government responses to the pandemic.


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Author Biographies

Dorceta E. Taylor, Yale University

Professor, Yale School of the Environment

Te’yah Wright, Yale University

Yale School of the Environment

Ian Ortiz, University of Michigan

Master’s Student

Alison Surdoval, The Nature Conservancy

Agriculture and Climate Scientist

Ember D. McCoy, University of Michigan

Ph.D. Student

Sorroco M. Daupan, Clean Water Action

Environmental Justice Organizer



How to Cite

Taylor, D., Wright, T., Ortiz, I., Surdoval, A., McCoy, E., & Daupan, S. (2022). Rising food insecurity and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on emergency food assistance in Michigan. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 11(3), 27–55. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2022.113.008