Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Accessibility to emergency food systems in south-central Indiana evaluated by spatiotemporal indices of pressure at county and pantry level


Families living in poverty in the United States rely on earnings, federal government programmes, the emergency food system (EFS) and a variety of informal networks to get adequate nutrition. The EFS is a large network of emergency food operations (EFOs) that serve as a supplement both for people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and for those requiring food aid who do not qualify for government assistance. The static view of the distribution of EFOs across 11 counties in south-central Indiana typically employed by policymakers and non-governmental organizations shows this largely rural area to be well covered. However, when examined by the time of day and day of month that EFOs in the region operate, coverage proves illusory. Here, we map and analyse the spatiotemporal availability of services offered by these EFOs and develop measures of availability of EFOs, dependent on EFO open hours, service area limitations and numbers of food-insecure individuals. This allows policymakers and non-governmental organizations to better gauge the adequacy of the EFS within a given region.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Location of EFOs analysed.
Fig. 2: FIIP expressed in quantiles for the counties in south-central Indiana.
Fig. 3: Small-multiples mapping of the space–time variation in pantry openings for south-central Indiana EFOs on a 28-day cycle.
Fig. 4: PAI scores for south-central Indiana EFOs.
Fig. 5: IAI scores for south-central Indiana census tracts.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request or at


  1. American Factfinder (US Census Bureau, 2019);

  2. Gundersen, C., Dewey, A., Crumbaugh, A., Kato, M. & Engelhard, E. Map the Meal Gap. Feeding America (2015).

  3. Food Security in the U.S.—Measurement (US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2019);

  4. Managing the Month on Food Stamps (Common Cents Lab, 2016);

  5. Poppendieck, J. Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement (Penguin, 1998).

  6. Fisher, A. Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups (MIT Press, 2017).

  7. Coleman-Jensen, A. Food Pantries Provide Emergency Food to More than One-Quarter of Food-Insecure Households (US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2018);

  8. Vissing, Y., Gu, J., Jones, A. & Gabriel, S. Preserving dignity in the face of hunger: a study of food pantry utilization. Humanity Soc. 41, 461–481 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. McEntee, J. C. & Naumova, E. N. Building capacity between the private emergency food system and the local food movement: working toward food justice and sovereignty in the Global North. J. Agric. Food Syst. Comm. Dev. 3, 235–253 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Wilson, N. L. W., Just, D. R., Wansink, B. & Swigert, J. Food pantry selection solutions: a randomized controlled trial in client-choice food pantries to nudge clients to targeted foods. J. Public Health 39, 366–372 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Rural Poverty & Well-Being (US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2019);

  12. O’Connell, K. E., Holben, D. H. & Holcomb, J. P. Use of food pantries is associated with household food insecurity in Ohio. J. Hunger Environ. Nutr. 2, 93–109 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Molnar, J. J., Duffy, P. A., Claxton, L. & Bailey, C. Private food assistance in a small metropolitan area: urban resources and rural needs. J. Sociol. Soc. Welf. 28, 187–209 (2001).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Waity, J. F. Spatial inequality in access to food assistance in Indiana. Socio. Inq. 86, 103–126 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Widener, M. J. & Shannon, J. When are food deserts? Integrating time into research on food accessibility. Health Place 30, 1–3 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Data Set #1: South Central Indiana Food Pantries (Critical Food Studies Lab, 2018);

  17. Mousa, T. Y. & Freeland-Graves, J. H. Impact of food pantry donations on diet of a low-income population. Int. J. Food Sci. Nutr. 70, 78–87 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Wright, B. N. et al. Daily dietary intake patterns improve after visiting a food pantry among food-insecure rural Midwestern adults. Nutrients 10, 583 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Bradley, S., Vitous, C. A., Walsh-Felz, A. & Himmelgreen, D. Food insecurity and healthcare decision making among mobile food pantry clients in Tampa Bay. Ecol. Food Nutr. 57, 206–222 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Fong, K., Wright, R. & Wimer, C. The cost of free assistance: why low-income individuals do not access food EFOs. J. Sociol. Soc. Welf. 43, 71–93 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Kwan, M.-P. Space–time and integral measures of individual accessibility: a comparative analysis using a point-based framework. Geogr. Anal. 30, 191–215 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Mabli, J. & Worthington, J. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation and emergency food pantry use. J. Nutr. Educ. Behav. 49, 647–656 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. SNAP Community Characteristics—Indiana (Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 2018);

  24. Indiana’s Emergency Food Resource Network: Food Assistance Directory (Purdue Extension, 2017);

  25. Connect2Help Community Resource Network: Food Assistance Directory (Connect2Help, 2017);

  26. Waity, J. F. Geographic variation in barriers to the usage of food assistance in Indiana. J. Hunger Environ. Nutr. 14, 511–525 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Shen, Q. A spatial analysis of job openings and access in a U.S. metropolitan area. J. Am. Plan. Assoc. 67, 53–68 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Kwan, M.-P., Murray, A. T., O’Kelly, M. E. & Tiefelsdorf, M. Recent advances in accessibility research: representation, methodology and applications. J. Geogr. Syst. 5, 129–138 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Chen, X. Enhancing the two-step floating catchment area model for community food access mapping: case of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Prof. Geogr. 71, 668–680 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. ArcGIS Desktop: Network Analyst v.10. 7 (Environmental Systems Research Institute, 2019).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



K.H.K. served as the principal researcher, writer and project manager. K.J.K., B.P.H., J.B. and H.F.D. provided GIS and animation products. K.M.L. provided data collection. L.P.R.P. and K.C. provided the literature review. C.V.A. and E.L.N. provided data analytics. K.R.L. provided statistical analysis. S.M.R. and D.C.K. co-developed the two indices—PAI and IAI—used here. A.M.B. and D.C.K. provided managerial support and writing assistance and underwrote the cost of this study.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel C. Knudsen.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2, Tables 1 and 2, discussion and references.

Supplementary Video 1

Animation of pantry open hours by week, day of week and time of day.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kaplan, K.H., Kirk, K.J., Lich, K.M. et al. Accessibility to emergency food systems in south-central Indiana evaluated by spatiotemporal indices of pressure at county and pantry level. Nat Food 1, 284–291 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing