WWU Researchers Unveil New Study on the Economic Impact of Regional Food Banks


Using Skagit County’s Helping Hands Food Bank and Neighbors in Need Food Bank as test subjects, Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) recently completed a study charting the economic importance of food banks on the communities they serve, from the direct-spending impacts of the food distribution, to the ripple factors on local employment and sales, to the food bank’s impact on vital community statistics around crime and health.

“According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 12 percent of U.S. households are termed ‘food insecure,’ which means they have low or very low food security. We know regional food banks step up to help fill this gap, which is why we felt it was important that CEBR did this study, so we could analyze and understand how vital these organizations are to so many communities,” said James McCafferty, CEBR director.

Helping Hands and Neighbors in Need are the two largest food banks in Skagit County; together, during the study period (2016 data), the two organizations distributed more than 3 million pounds of food a year to more than 1,200 families. Using an economic modeling system called IMPLAN, CEBR researchers determined that by transferring this amount of food to households in need, those households were then free to spend a high percentage of their normal weekly food budget on other important items: housing, transportation, apparel or other goods and services.

For example, analyzing the data from Helping Hands shows each of the 730 families it serves can then spend about $2,756 per year on other necessities, with the estimate of direct local spending on these other necessities in a range from $1.3 million (low estimate) to $3 million (high estimate). The impact of these sales then has a ripple effect on job creation and economic vitality in that community as well

“The ripple effect, or multiplier, is important in a community because it measures the actual expenditure of the person (direct), the spending by those the buy from (indirect) and the activities of those business’ employees (induced).  It provides a clearer impact of how the spending impacts the economy,” said McCafferty.

A student team within CEBR consisting of Claire Anderson (Renton), Cory Briar (Helena, Montana), Justine Dombrowski (Los Alamos, New Mexico), and Heleana Lally (Spokane) also completed an analysis of the food banks’ impact on crime statistics in their communities.

The data from this research shows a clear pattern of food bank operation dropping existing crime figures in those areas, generating substantial cost savings for law enforcement, courts, and incarceration facilities as well as potential positive impacts on social services.

“Looking at impacts on crime, healthcare or other high cost government service areas is an important step in understanding the role of food banks and making the case for why communities should consider their financial support as an overall investment that has a positive return,” said McCafferty.

CEBR’s food bank impact study can be found online at the link below; for more information on the study contact James McCafferty at james.mccafferty@wwu.edu or at (360) 650-2414.


Link: https://cbe.wwu.edu/files/2018%20Skagit%20Food%20Bank%20Economic%20Impacts_1.pdf