A no-questions-asked, self-serve food pantry more than doubled its distribution rates between March 2020 and November 2021 compared to the same period in 2018-19.

The University of Chicago Medicine’s Feed1st pantry program provided more than 42,000 pounds of food (a 124% increase) to patients, hospital visitors, and staff during the pandemic. These results appear in the American Journal of Public Health, and according to the research team, demonstrate the importance of open access food pantry programs.

“We compared our impact to the impact of another urban hospital, serving a similar population, with food pantries that had barriers to access, such as requiring an ID or a provider referral and waiting for a pantry staff member to bring them food,” says Cristianne Frazier, who manages the Feed1st program.

“We saw a substantial increase in our distribution rates during the pandemic, while the questions-asked hospital program actually saw a decrease—they served fewer people and distributed less food during the pandemic compared to before it.

“The ‘feed first’ model maximizes dignity and facilitates use by requiring no permission and no documentation to access, which we believe increases the likelihood that individuals who need food will help themselves to this resource,” she continues.

Currently, federal and state policies limit the implementation of this type of pantry model; the USDA and state agencies usually require food pantry programs to gather information from patrons to distribute government-sourced food. Frazier hopes that these results help encourage policy changes that will enable more food pantries to take an open access approach.

“Our hypothesis is that widespread implementation of open access food pantries, especially in communities that have been socioeconomically marginalized, would have a bigger positive impact on public health than the traditional models,” says Frazier. “Feed1st has been running for more than 10 years thanks to the hospital’s community benefit program, partnerships, and generous donors, but others trying to start up similar pantries around Chicago have run into barriers with obtaining food due to these policies.”

Read the full article about food pantries by Alison Caldwell at Futurity.