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Assessing the organizational capacity of Pittsburgh’s nonprofit food aid network

Mennies, Nina Berenice (2023) Assessing the organizational capacity of Pittsburgh’s nonprofit food aid network. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In 2022, over 1 in 8 American households experienced food insecurity, defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food (Rabbitt et al. 2023). Food insecurity is a significant social determinant of health that is caused by poverty and exacerbated by structural disparities in food availability and access.
Efforts to combat food insecurity include federal and state benefit programs such as SNAP and ground-level charitable food aid organizations such as food banks and food pantries. The charitable food aid sector is currently facing heightened demand due to recent SNAP benefit reductions and continuous inflation, making it important to determine whether food assistance organizations have the capacity to adequately meet the needs of the people they serve. Considering substantial regional variations in food insecurity and access, as well as the context-specific nature of street-level nonprofit work, analyzing the capacity of food assistance organizations on a local scale is particularly valuable.
My research aims to assess strengths and weaknesses in the organizational capacity of Pittsburgh’s charitable food assistance network, with the goal of determining areas of improvement that can be addressed on the organizational level, as well as relevant opportunities for improvement in federal food assistance policy. I conducted in-depth interviews with seven food assistance nonprofits using a modified version of an existing nonprofit capacity assessment tool (McKinsey and Company’s OCAT), as well as a survey of 56 food pantries in the Pittsburgh region. My findings demonstrate significant variation in organizational capacity among food assistance nonprofits, with consistent areas of weakness in succession planning, funding stability, and extra-organizational communication. I observed similar areas of concern among food pantries, as well as an overall lack of sustainable funding and resources, and a need for additional staff and volunteer support. Based on these findings, I argue that federal food assistance policy must be strengthened to ease the burden placed on the charitable food aid sector and ensure that households struggling with food insecurity receive sufficient support.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Mennies, Nina Berenicenbm12@pitt.eduNBM12
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorGlass,
Committee MemberMurrell,
Committee MemberNelson,
Committee MemberSeidel,
Date: 14 December 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 16 November 2023
Approval Date: 14 December 2023
Submission Date: 7 December 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 152
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Urban Studies
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Food Insecurity, Food Assistance, Organizational Capacity
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2023 17:54
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2023 17:54


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