The Healthy Food Pantry Assessment Toolkit: An Evaluation Tool for Local Food Pantries and Communities

by Alexandra Bush-Kaufman Research Coordinator, Washington State University-Extension, Pierce County

Many local food pantry agencies and food banks work with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) to provide direct nutrition education to the people they serve and promote policy, systems and environmental changes (PSE) to support improvements to nutrition and physical activity behaviors, and overall health. SNAP-Ed and EFNEP complement each other and have different approaches to getting at the same goal to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

The Healthy Food Pantry Assessment Project was a research endeavor of the Regional Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Center of Excellence – West (RNECE-W) and was active September 2014 through August 2018. RNECE-W has since sunset, but resources developed from the research remain beneficial to local community nutrition education efforts. The Healthy Food Pantry Assessment Project addressed the need for research-tested evaluation tools for PSE initiatives within the food pantry setting. The final Healthy Food Pantry Assessment Tool (HFPAT) is now available for organizations to utilize and conduct an environmental scan (e-scan) of their setting, and includes: an observational survey, instruction manual, and a matched resource guide of best practice strategies. Additional information supporting the toolkit is also available on the US Department of Agriculture’s SNAP-Ed Connection website.

The Healthy Food Pantry Assessment Project was designed in three phases. The final product is an observational survey assessment tool for the food pantry setting that provides a numeric score on a scale of 0-100. The closer to 100, the more aligned the pantry environment is to current healthy best practices defined by in-depth interview results and research literature. Most pantries score between 35 and 65 at the start of the process using the HFPAT pre and post to assess attainable change, and helping pantries and partners identify action areas for PSE interventions. Additionally, this tool aligns with the SNAP-Ed evaluation framework indicators: Readiness and Need (ST5); Organizational Partnerships (ST7); and Nutrition Supports (MT5).

What role do community partners play in using this tool?

Community partners, such as food banks, have many roles, primarily serving as coordinators to onboard pantry managers, staff and volunteers to the idea of assessing their pantry setting. Food bank staff, SNAP-Ed and EFNEP professionals schedule meetings and tours of the pantry and conduct the HFPAT along with the manager. This is often an opportunity to explore the strengths of the pantry agency and identify areas of improvement. After the assessment is complete, food bank staff, SNAP-Ed and EFNEP professionals meet with food pantry leadership to discuss possible actions that community partners can take in collaboration with the pantry to improve the food environment for people served.

Do community partners assist the pantry with making changes that interest them based on the assessment results?

Yes, this assistance is determined by the type of funding that supports the agency. The HFPAT Resource Guide contains a brief sample of possible actions for food bank staff, SNAP-Ed and EFNEP professionals to partner with food pantries to make healthy changes in the pantry setting.

Alexandra Bush-Kaufman is a research coordinator for community and public health nutrition programs. She has served as the Program Coordinator and Extension Specialist for Washington State University-Extension for four years after graduating with a Master’s of Public Health-Nutrition at University of Washington-Seattle. She completed the Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics in 2014 and precepts dietetic interns as a registered dietitian. Originally from Missouri, Alexandra volunteered regularly for the Southeast Missouri Food Bank and Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau, MO while in college.