Poster Paper: Trends in Self-Sufficiency Among Food Pantry Clients: The Self-Sufficiency Outcomes Matrix

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Erin Feichtinger1, Jodi Benenson2 and Danni Smith1, (1)Together Omaha, (2)University of Nebraska, Omaha

Early assessment efforts of poverty and self-sufficiency focused primarily on examining a family’s financial situation. However, previous research suggests that to effectively evaluate self-sufficiency, it is imperative to examine other factors such as housing, hunger, and mental health (Snohomish County Self-Sufficiency Taskforce, 2010). Because of the multiple factors involved in self-sufficiency, it is difficult to find a reliable and valid assessment tool to measure each variable that influences, and is influenced by, the experience of poverty. Social service agencies often rely on various disparate measurements of each different program, and the need exists for an assessment that is both holistic, accessible, and succinct.

In response to this need for better measurements, the Together Self-Sufficiency Outcomes Matrix (TSSOM) was developed from best practices research, local and national standards, and similar tools designed by other social service agencies (The Snohomish County Self-Sufficiency Task Force, 2010; Sandfort & Hill, 1996; Hawkins, 2005; Boulder County Self-Sufficiency Matrix, 2017; Culhane, Parker, Poppe, Gross & Sykes, 2008). The TSSOM assesses participant levels of vulnerability across various areas of self-sufficiency, to include education, employment, income, housing stability, food security, access to transportation, access to health care, mental health, strength of support networks, and community involvement. Another key component of the TSSOM is its mixed-methods design. Through the use of a semi-structured interview guide and clearly-defined rating scales, both qualitative and quantitative data can be collected.

This paper examines trends in self-sufficiency among food pantry clients in Omaha, Nebraska using quantitative and qualitative data from the TSSOM. The quantitative data allows for the study of disparities in self-sufficiency across demographic lines such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, veteran status, and geographic location. Furthermore, we are able to identify and discuss significant correlations between various areas of self-sufficiency. The qualitative component of this research provides important contextual evidence for understanding self-sufficiency from a holistic perspective. Participants in this study also complete a six-month follow-up assessment, which will be used to evaluate chronological trends in self-sufficiency on both the individual and the population level.

The implications from this research have potential impacts for both the non-profit and public sectors. The TSSOM was designed to be used both as a case management and a capacity-building tool for non-profit organizations. As such, it can help agencies identify community needs and improve or develop programming. From a policy perspective, there are also implications for data-driven advocacy on the local or state level, where productive solutions to social issues are often impeded by an inability to “connect the dots”.

The TSSOM allows non-profit organizations to better listen to the voices of the community that they serve. In of itself, this has value, as it empowers people experiencing poverty to share not only their needs, but also their stories and strengths. By capturing the diverse experiences of poverty, the TSSOM will contribute to the body of knowledge on economic insecurity in Omaha and other mid-sized metropolitan areas.