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How Cost Effective Are Food Pantry Programs for the Poor Likely to Be?


  • Wodon, Divya
  • Wodon, Naina
  • Wodon, Quentin


This paper proposes a simple methodology for measuring and analyzing the cost effectiveness of food pantries and other food distribution programs that transfer in-kind benefits to the poor. The methodology suggests that even if the administrative cost, management, and nonfood costs of running food pantry programs is not negligible, the benefits generated by these programs for low income families may still be important for two reasons. First, the prices paid by food pantry programs when purchasing food from local food banks are lower than the prices charged by supermarkets for similar products. Second, most beneficiaries of food pantry programs are likely to belong to low income families and are also likely to use most of the food received. At the same time, the benefits from food pantry programs remain somewhat limited. Therefore, while the value of the food distributed by these programs is important for beneficiaries, additional initiatives to help households better allocate their own expenditures on food might generate even more value, thereby increasing the cost effectiveness of such programs.

Suggested Citation

  • Wodon, Divya & Wodon, Naina & Wodon, Quentin, 2013. "How Cost Effective Are Food Pantry Programs for the Poor Likely to Be?," MPRA Paper 56945, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:56945

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Wodon, Divya & Wodon, Naina & Wodon, Quentin, 2013. "Thrift Stores Funding Food Pantries: A Win-Win Strategy for Nonprofits Serving the Poor?," MPRA Paper 56941, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Valerie Tarasuk & Joan Eakin, 2005. "Food assistance through “surplus” food: Insights from an ethnographic study of food bank work," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 22(2), pages 177-186, June.
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    More about this item


    Food pantries; Food Banks; Cost effectiveness; Cost benefit analysis; District of Columbia;

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • L31 - Industrial Organization - - Nonprofit Organizations and Public Enterprise - - - Nonprofit Institutions; NGOs; Social Entrepreneurship

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