Food insecurity and disasters: predicting disparities in total and first-time food pantry visits during the COVID-19 pandemic

Alexandria J. Drake, Lora A. Phillips, Brajesh Karna, Shakthi Bharathi Murugesan, Lily K. Villa, Nathan A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the U.S. state of Arizona, nearly one-third of households experienced food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase from one-fourth of households before the pandemic. Previous research on food insecurity in the wake of natural and human-instigated disasters demonstrates that groups vulnerable to food insecurity before a disaster are more susceptible to food insecurity during and after that disaster; however, less is known about whether this relationship also holds true during health-related disasters, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We explore how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced urban food insecurity patterns by analyzing the socio-demographic characteristics of food pantry clients in Maricopa County, Arizona. Using data from Phoenix Rescue Mission (PRM), a local non-profit food service provider, two binomial logistic regression models compare the socio-demographic composition of total and first-time food pantry users before and during the pandemic. In addition to an overall increase in food pantry usage during the pandemic, we find that, while certain socio-demographic groups historically vulnerable to food insecurity experienced the predicted uptick in insecurity during the pandemic, other socio-demographic disparities were attenuated. These somewhat disparate findings illustrate the complex relationship between disasters and food insecurity in an urban context, offering several avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-504
Number of pages12
JournalFood Security
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Arizona
  • COVID-19
  • Disasters
  • Food Deserts
  • Maricopa County
  • Urban Food Insecurity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Development
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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