Food insecurity and poverty are on the rise in America, and thus an exploration of the private response to these issues is ever more pressing. I conducted research at a food pantry in Wooster, OH to discover how private food assistance operations are run, and explore attitudes of volunteers and staff toward clients and poverty in general, using interviews and participant observation. The literature discussed in the study centers around the structural problems with private food assistance as a response to food insecurity, and the giver-receiver relationship between volunteers and clients at food pantries. I also use Paul Farmer’s theory of structural violence, Michael Katz’s historical accounting of moral categorization of the poor, the competing discourses surrounding Oscar Lewis’s culture of poverty, and Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy as lenses to understand how our system of private aid has arisen, and the consequences that follow for its users. I found that volunteers and staff had complex responses to poverty and to clients at the pantry, shaped by compassion but also by judgment that results from American culture and from being responsible for distributing scarce resources.


Mariola, Matthew


Sociology and Anthropology


Inequality and Stratification | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2015 Nina R. Breyer