Reducing Food Insecurity
with New York Common Pantry
An Interview with Senior Data Analyst Shanna Beairsto
The diversity encapsulated in New York City’s neighborhoods is perhaps their greatest strength, but also their greatest challenge. A journey across the city is a journey across different levels of well-being, revealing vast inequalities in access to opportunity among residents of the five boroughs.
This brings us to an increasingly pressing question: how can New York City continue to grow economically without leaving behind residents from its physically and symbolically peripheral spaces? Across the city, human services and nonprofit organizations are trying to answer this question, each with unique perspectives, guidelines, and goals.
What the organizations we feature in these data snapshots share is their commitment to using data to better meet the needs of the people they serve.
A Data-Driven Approach to Addressing Food Security in NYC
New York Common Pantry is one of many human services organizations doing meaningful work with data in the city. This non-profit organization aims to reduce hunger and food insecurity through a “whole-person” approach that seeks to promote self-sufficiency among those they serve. This strategy involves a wide array of programs, from traditional food pantry services, like meal and grocery provision, to long-term resources, such as case management and nutrition education workshops.
Shanna Beairsto, the Chief Statistician at New York Common Pantry, uses DATA2GO.NYC to translate the organization’s goal - reducing hunger and food insecurity - into actionable steps. All steps begin with “where.” DATA2GO.NYC, a data-visualization tool that presents data by census tract, helps Beairsto find neighborhoods where a large percentage of households receive SNAP benefits. The resulting map visualization allows Beairsto to intuitively evaluate whether Common Pantry’s services are targeting areas with the largest population of food-insecure and hungry families.
In addition to finding places where the New York Common Pantry can have the most impact, the non-profit plans to use DATA2GO Health, an off-shoot of the DATA2GO.NYC tool designed to specifically focus on health variables in NYC communities, to learn which areas other soup kitchens and food pantries are serving. This data could be a foundation for potential partnerships to coordinate efforts aimed at eliminating hunger in the city.
Beairsto often uses DATA2GO.NYC to find out which areas have a high percentage of adults who consumed “no fruits and vegetables yesterday.” In fact, New York Common Pantry was able to use this measure to both develop a goal for their Live Healthy workshops and evaluate the efficacy of those workshops. Based on an internal survey of workshop participants, New York Common Pantry was able to compare their fruit and vegetable consumption against the average within their community district. The results showed that participants ate healthier after the training and demonstrated New York Common Pantry’s positive impact on the communities they serve.
In addition, New York Common Pantry has found DATA2GO.NYC useful in the various stages of planning, executing and evaluating their programs. During the exploratory phase, Beairsto used DATA2GO.NYC to understand which areas were in need of Common Pantry’s services. Specific data pertaining to nutrition have also come into play during the process of translating general goals into actionable steps. These nutrition indicators have provided Common Pantry a benchmark with which to evaluate the success of their programs. In the future, Beairsto hopes to utilize DATA2GO.NYC to identify potential partners.
New York Common Pantry’s work exemplifies the interplay between data and action - an interplay that is crucial to progress. DATA2GO.NYC helps organizations create and implement data-driven strategies for achieving their goals.