This study aimed to identify changes in food distribution operations at emergency food assistance organizations (EFAOs) during the COVID-19 pandemic. EFAOs across the Houston metro area, TX (human service centers and food pantries) as well as the Houston Food Bank (HFB) participated in the qualitative study. Data were collected via individual semi-structured interviews and focus group (December 2020-February 2021), and coded using semi-structured thematic analysis. Categories were pre-identified based on the interview questions. Direct quotes supported subcategories. Directors from 18 EFAOs were interviewed; 8 HFB leadership staff participated in a focus group. Four major categories of change due to COVID-19 included new safety measures, changes in food distribution process, changes in volunteerism and staffing, and changes in amounts of food distributed. This study helps identify susceptibilities in EFAOs' food distribution chain should be addressed to manage future emergency food insecurity crises more effectively. An understanding of the changes/challenges incurred by EFAOs during the COVID-19 pandemic can inform policymakers to ensure local food distribution organizations are prepared to fill the needs during future a crisis of food insecurity.
Keywords: COVID-19; emergency food assistance organizations (EFAOs); food distribution; food insecurity; food pantry.