Community food assistance, informal social networks, and the labor of care

  • Hilda KurtzEmail author
  • Abigail Borron
  • Jerry Shannon
  • Alexis Weaver
Article, Theoretical and Empirical


In 2016, the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) launched the Stabilizing Lives project to develop programs and policies that could better address clients’ needs as well as including clientele as part of the planning process. The ACFB partnered with a research team at the University of Georgia to conduct a participatory research project aimed at developing deeper insights into the factors contributing to both instability and stability in the lives of pantry clientele. This article describes the outcomes this research, offering both a substantive contribution to scholarship on food insecurity and emergency food systems and a methodological innovation through a staged mixed-method participatory research project. Through use of a culture-centered approach, this project created discursive spaces within which to outline emergency food models that support informal networks of care. We used a range of methods, including photo elicitation, concept mapping, individual interviews, and focus groups, to facilitate conversation among agency staff, volunteers, and clientele about the effectiveness of current program models and potential new ideas. Specifically, we suggest that through such practices, food pantries and local agencies may help inform new program models that contribute to household stability, and push back against the sometimes alienating and atomizing paradigm found in current emergency food programs.


Emergency food assistance Food banks Culture-centered approach Participatory research Mixed methods Concept mapping 



The Atlanta Community Food Bank provided generous funding and logistical support for this research. The authors are grateful to Vista Gilliam and Sarah Otto-Wang, Staff at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, for their invaluable assistance and perspective during this research. We also recognize the hard work of our student research assistants: Hillary Jourdan, Aspen Kemmerlin, Grace Barrett, and Jacy Donaldson.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the Ethical Standards of the Institutional and/or National Research Committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geography DepartmentUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and CommunicationUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.Atlanta Community Food BankAtlantaUSA

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