The ArcGIS Online map we created, which is currently only for internal use, is another tool to support our Pop Up Markets initiative and collaboration across departments at the Food Bank. Being able to see a physical representation of where access to resources and services [is difficult] has been extremely beneficial.
GIS Provides an Equity Lens for Food Bank Operations | GIS Offers Insight into Recurring Trends
For over 40 years, the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina has worked to support people experiencing hunger in the organization's 34-county service area. The Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization. In terms of total food distribution, the Food Bank—a nonprofit organization—is typically ranked 15th out of 200 Feeding America food banks nationwide, and first in North Carolina. Every day, the organization works to provide food to those in need while also developing solutions to end hunger in North Carolina communities. It is also the state's largest affiliate food bank in terms of service area. The Food Bank works across the food system to ensure that families, children, seniors, and other individuals have access to nutritious food. The Food Bank empowers communities to overcome hunger through partnerships, education, and programs, thereby creating an environment in which all North Carolinians can thrive.
Geographic information system (GIS) technology is used as a mission-driven enterprise solution that aids in market research, field operations, communications, and public engagement as well as improving the effectiveness of employees across organizations. It contributes to bringing causes to life by presenting an understanding of where things are happening and the effects of individual approaches to problem-solving. The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina turned to GIS to do the following:
- Analyze demographic, behavioral, and economic data to determine which areas require the most assistance
- Measure programs' success
- Increase stakeholder engagement with compelling data and graphics engagement
- Raise awareness of the Food Bank's programs
As a way to reach more residents in need, the Food Bank started an initiative called Pop Up Market, a pop-up food distribution event. The Food Bank set up Pop Up Markets with the same structure as a no-cost farmers market. The purpose of this initiative is to help the Food Bank fill service gaps across more neighborhoods. This service differs from how the Food Bank usually operates, because food and produce donations are typically received by the Food Bank and then distributed to partner agencies. Meanwhile, the goal of holding Pop Up Markets is to identify service gaps in the Food Bank's service area and host some direct distributions in those areas.
Identifying the Gaps in the Food Program
To aid in the process of determining which communities lacked proximity to food services and resources, the Food Bank created an interactive map using ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online. By mapping its existing data, the Food Bank can visualize and analyze residents' proximity to partner agencies, identify which neighborhoods are being served, pinpoint underresourced areas, and determine where Pop Up Markets are needed most. With the data collected, the Food Bank learned which areas had limited access to produce and would benefit from Pop Up Markets. Additionally, by illustrating North Carolina's data by applying a geographic lens, the ArcGIS Online map revealed that it was much more difficult for residents to access food resources in rural areas. This type of insight validated what the organization's staff members had previously inferred, and having the data validated through GIS has helped justify the work they've been doing to close any food access gaps.
The ArcGIS Online map, pictured below, depicts the Food Bank's network of over 600 partner agencies, such as soup kitchens, food pantries, and shelters, as well as programs through distribution facilities. The map also includes the average number of people served by partner agencies in an area as well as food pantry service hours and food service locations. Because it tells users how many food pantries are nearby and when they open, the map inspires Food Bank staff to ensure that people have access to those resources. Before conducting additional research, it is useful to understand where food access gaps may exist.
"The ArcGIS Online map we created, which is currently only for internal use, is another tool to support our Pop Up Markets initiative and collaboration across departments at the Food Bank. Being able to see a physical representation of where access to resources and services [is difficult] has been extremely beneficial."—Cassie James, Pop Up Markets Coordinator, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina
Using GIS to Aid Decision-Making
Pop Up Markets coordinator Cassie James recently joined the organization and has successfully contributed by applying her prior experience in using ArcGIS Survey123, a formcentric app for creating, sharing, and analyzing surveys. ArcGIS Survey123 is also used to collect data via web or mobile devices, analyze results quickly, and upload data securely for further analysis. James recognized the need for this tool and helped launch the integration of ArcGIS Survey123 at each Pop Up Market event, providing a brief client intake form that each attendee is encouraged to complete.
To help staff understand the community receiving food, the Food Bank incorporated questions for information such as the number of households food is being picked up for; the client's age range, ZIP code, and travel time to the location; and contact information to alert attendees in case of any food recalls. By using data collected with Survey123, the Food Bank can determine the average number of pounds each person received at a Pop Up Market event. This allows staff to estimate the number of meals individuals took home by using the formula (created by Feeding America) of 1.2 pounds of food per meal. A higher number of pounds of food taken per person could indicate greater need in that community.
Breaking Down Barriers by Analyzing through an Equity Lens
Additionally, this GIS tool provides the ability to apply an equity lens to ensure that all residents have access to food. With US census data, the organization identified that North Carolina's Hispanic population exceeds one million people. To equitably serve the Hispanic population, it was critical to provide intake forms for Spanish-speaking clients. This dual-language option helped residents use the intake process and served as a way to collect data that reflected the communities being served. Eliminating language barriers provides more opportunities for community participation to support those in need of assistance.
So far, the data gathered through ArcGIS Survey123 indicates that 62 percent of the people being served have learned about the food distribution events through word of mouth. While the organization uses social media to reach a broader community, word-of-mouth marketing has been the most effective.
"This initiative is intended to be a sustainable program; it provides a good starting point for community members to get involved where a need exists in our service area. GIS is a useful tool since it allows us to find ideal locations for direct distributions. The end goal for a Pop Up Markets site is for food distributions to be independently run by the site host or an existing partner agency so that we can facilitate Pop Up Markets elsewhere and cover more of our service area."—Cassie James, Pop Up Markets Coordinator, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina
One of the primary goals for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina is to distribute food to various partner organizations so that they can serve their specific regions.
Providing a Transformational Example of GIS for Food Banks
The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina recognized the enormous potential of GIS for nonprofit organizations, particularly those that are similarly interested in using GIS to understand their geographic areas and needs, as well as to see the results of their work in a visual format that can be shared internally and even externally. The Food Bank shared a modified version of the ArcGIS Online map with workers at a local charity who were interested in creating something similar as inspiration for what they could do and how to get started.
The Food Bank's GIS work will evolve as more time is spent using the technology, but in the future, this map will continue to increase community engagement by being used to educate people, recruit new donors and agencies, and show where donors are located. The nonprofit's staff members will continue to use GIS as they delve deeper into the Food Bank data to see what else they can do and how they can improve their work.