Achieving Equitable Food Security: How Can Food Bank Mobile Pantries Fill this Humanitarian Need
Forthcoming in Production and Operations Management
46 Pages Posted: 21 May 2020 Last revised: 31 Dec 2021
Date Written: April 24, 2020
Ending hunger, improving nutrition, and reducing food waste are important objectives for most countries and they are also part of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Hunger occurs in all locations around the globe, from developing to developed countries. In fact, there were over 40 million food insecure individuals (those without access to consistent, nutritious food) in the United States in 2017 and this number has risen in recent years. In many countries, regional food banks collect food donations or surplus food in one area and redistribute it to local food insecure individuals. An important aspect of humanitarian operations is their impartiality or equity, which applies to food banks as they strive to achieve geographic equity in their food distribution. However, food banks experience extreme uncertainty in both the supply (donations) of food and the demand (partner agency capacity and requests), which makes equitable distribution challenging. Our paper focuses on how mobile pantry programs and additional storage capacity can be utilized to address this supply and demand uncertainty. While both of these approaches could be helpful, our results show that mobile pantries are much more effective at achieving high equity levels. This is especially true when considering multiple food items with varying storage requirements and expiration times, because in the case of produce with very short expiration times, mobile pantry programs are the only option that can achieve high equity levels (as opposed to increased storage). Despite the fact that increased storage is potentially beneficial for shelf stable items, we find that mobile pantry programs are more cost-effective at achieving high equity levels. We also find that utilizing mobile pantry program distribution may actually increase total distribution (including all modes of distribution) by three times the mobile pantry distribution amount, because even small amounts of mobile pantry distribution in underserved areas allow for more flexibility and more equitable distribution in areas with available distribution capacity. Our research is based on data from our partner food bank, but our modeling and results should be applicable to food banks across the world with a similar collection and distribution structure.
Keywords: Humanitarian operations, Equitable distribution, Food bank, Mobile pantry, UN sustainable development.
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