Photo courtesy UTEP
Food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increased demand for emergency food assistance in El Paso County, particularly in households located in downtown El Paso and in communities outside the city, including San Elizario, Fabens and Tornillo.
“As UTEP researchers, our goal is to provide information on urgent community needs to local leaders so that they can make informed decisions based on evidence,” said Gregory S. Schober, Ph.D., UTEP assistant professor in rehabilitation sciences and the study’s principal investigator. His co-principal investigators included Jayajit Chakraborty, Ph.D., professor of geography and founding director of the Socio-Environmental and Geospatial Analysis (SEGA) Lab, and Amy Wagler, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematical sciences and director of the Data Analytics Lab.
The information comes from a study by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso, who applied geospatial and statistical analysis to identify patterns and trends of emergency food assistance in the county during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study, which was funded by the County of El Paso, used emergency food transfer data from El Pasoans Fighting Hunger (EPFH) Food Bank and local food pantries to pinpoint distribution patterns of households that received emergency food transfers from March to December 2020. Data also was used to map locations by ZIP code and census tract that were hot spots for emergency food assistance.
Researchers presented the study’s findings at the April 26, 2021 County Commissioners Court meeting.
“The data and results from this study can be used by the County of El Paso to shape its food assistance polices, and by EPFH Food Bank to enhance its food distribution sites,” Schober said.
“Results also could be used to create awareness campaigns targeting households in need of food assistance.”
Researchers analyzed Emergency Food Transfer data in three parts. First they looked at data from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7, 2020, and then from July to November 2020.
They last analyzed data from the first day of emergency food assistance on March 19 to Dec. 31, 2020.
Eleven UTEP graduate and undergraduate research assistants spent more than 2,000 hours entering and geocoding 32,082 handwritten household addresses into geospatial software so UTEP researchers could analyze the data.
Analyses on spatial correspondence with social vulnerability, distances from households to food distribution sites, and trends associated with total demand for emergency food transfers were also included in the study.
Among the study’s findings, the 79901 ZIP code in downtown El Paso had the highest demand for emergency food assistance, with 14% of households receiving emergency food transfers. The 79849, 79927, 79838, and 79853 ZIP codes outside El Paso’s city limits also had more than 10% of households receiving emergency food assistance.
Researchers also identified key factors that were associated with total EFT demand such as local government policies and COVID-19 health indicators.