Abstract: The Perspective of People Receiving Food Support (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Perspective of People Receiving Food Support

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Ahuva Even-Zohar, PhD, Senior lecturer & Social worker, Ariel University, Israel
Background and Purpose: The phenomenon of food insecurity, expressed in the limited or uncertain ability to acquire, adequate food because of insufficient money for food, is a social problem in many developed countries. The aim of the current research was to describe the perspective of Israeli people assisted by organizations due to food insecurity, and their experiences in receiving assistance.

Methods: The study was conducted using a qualitative method, according to the phenomenological-interpretive approach. The sample included seven men and nine women, ages 33-62. After receiving the approval of the Ethics Committee, the research participants were recruited via social workers in welfare departments, and managers of food aid organizations. After signing an informed consent form, the participants were interviewed by social work students using in-depth semi-structured interviews which began with an invitation to describe his or her experience. Most participants were interviewed in their homes. The interviews lasted from 40-90 minutes, and all interviews were recorded and transcribed. Each interviewer read the transcripts the interviews several times to obtain a complete picture, then dividing the text into meaningful content categories. The categories obtained were analyzed in a way that made it possible to understand each category and its components, to draw connections between them, and to construct major themes.

Findings: Six main themes were found: (1) The background for food insecurity, (2) Ways of receiving food support: a) food baskets, b) soup kitchens, and c) a loaded money card to buy food items at a supermarket. (3) Feelings about receiving support, (4) Is there any improvement in food security as a result of receiving support?, (5) State's responsibility for food security, (6) Israeli society's attitude to food aid recipients.

The main reasons for food insecurity were financial difficulties stemming from low income (salary or State allowance). Other reasons include health problems and marital status, especially among single-parent families. People apply for food assistance after exhausting all other options, such as receiving help from family and friends and using savings.

The findings indicate the preference of participants for money cards that restore autonomy and enable people to buy food products according to their specific, individual needs and taste in a socially acceptable way. Although the support does not completely extricate families from food insecurity, they gain confidence by being able to receive food in times of distress. Receiving support improves food security, reduces economic stress, and allows people to use their money for other purposes. The participants noted the warm attitude they receive from individuals and organizations in Israeli society, and emphasized their expectation for the state welfare system to be responsible for food security.

Conclusion and Implications: To achieve the goal of a better and more sustainable future for people living in poverty we have to listen to their voices about their experiences. The opinions and preferences of the people who receive food support must be taken into account at the decision-making level, when deciding on appropriate ways to provide the basic, vital, human need for food security.