Families changed how they purchased food during the COVID-19 pandemic. They ate at home more, relying on supermarkets and online ordering and home delivery to access food as public health guidelines changed. Those changes altered how food-insecure people with disabilities access food too.

During the pandemic, food banks and home delivery services entered into partnerships that enabled people with disabilities—who face significant food security and access barriers—to have free groceries and meals delivered directly to their homes.

Home delivery of charitable food benefits all types of eligible households by reducing stigma and saving time for families struggling with transportation barriers or caregiving responsibilities that make it hard to travel to a food bank. However, they’re especially effective at increasing access to charitable food among people with disabilities, according to our conversations with members of anti-hunger organizations and clients participating in one home delivery partnership, DoorDash’s Project DASH. They also support anti-hunger organizations in tackling disparities in food access and provide food banks with new capacity to reach people unable to pick up food in person.

Given home delivery partnerships’ many advantages, sustaining them beyond the pandemic is integral to supporting the well-being of people with disabilities facing food insecurity. Policymakers, practitioners, advocates, and funders have a role to play in elevating these partnerships and ensuring food assistance policies are responsive to disabled people’s needs and preferences.

Sustainable funding is crucial to capitalizing on pandemic-era innovations like home delivery partnerships and ensuring households with disabled members have the necessary supports to meet their food needs. While 8 in 10 (82.3 percent) charitable food providers working with Project DASH reported planning to continue home delivery, virtually all cited a potential lack of sufficient funding as their top barrier to doing so.

Policymakers, practitioners, and funders can take three steps to support these efforts and normalize making policy responsive to the needs of people with disabilities:

  1. Make strategies to reach people with disabilities a central part of food assistance infrastructure.
  2. Prioritize eliminating the disproportionate risk of food insecurity among households where someone has a disability.
  3. Center the voices of people with disabilities in the design and evaluation of food access strategies that are fully responsive to their needs and preferences, in the true spirit of the disability justice framing of “nothing about us without us.”

Read the full article about food access by Elaine Waxman, Kassandra Martinchek, and Paige Sonoda at Urban Institute.