Food banks and other private feeding programs have become an institutionalized component of the social welfare system in over 190 urban areas in the U.S. More recently, private food assistance has gained importance in rural areas as well. The density and capacity of agencies to serve the poor is higher in urban areas than in sparsely populated rural locales where distance and dispersal tend to be barriers to supplying and accessing donated food. Rural food distribution strategies thus must be qualitatively different than those in larger communities, because of the smaller-scale, more informal distributional system. Little is known about how urban-based nonprofit services stimulate and support food assistance in surrounding rural locales. Based on intensive interviews with food bank stafffood pan try directors, and food pantry clientele, we examine obstacles affecting the use of food pantries and the amelioration of food insecurity. We also provide an assessment of how changes in federal welfare provisions may be affecting the need for private food assistance.

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