Communication strategies to facilitate emergency preparedness for Generation Z and college food pantries: Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic




Generation Z, COVID-19, college, food pantry, social media


Background: There is a paucity of research on college food pantry operations, especially in relation to emergency preparedness and disaster relief. However, there are multiple research studies confirming the efficacy of using social media to communicate with younger adults, especially Generation Z (Gen Z).

Methods: This study examines a college food pantry’s social media posts and pantry utilization in a midsize, public university in Texas, prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collegiate food insecurity was analyzed through the lens of the socioecological model. Social media data during the spring 2019 semester were compared using a two-way ANOVA prior to and following the origination of the COVID-19 pandemic within the state, and pantry utilization over the spring 2019 and fall 2020 semesters was evaluated using a t-test.

Results: There were significantly more likes per post on Instagram than other social media outlets, and there were significantly more impressions per post on Twitter as opposed to Facebook, with a trend toward more impressions per posts, after COVID-19. There was no significant difference in food pantry utilization between the fall and spring semester aside from a spike after return following the spring recess, confirmed as Grubb’s outlier. Application of the socioecological model emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and multitiered interventions during an emergency, including the use of social media.

Conclusion: This information can help collegiate organizations reach more students through targeted posting on select social media platforms used by their students. Interdisciplinary, inclusive approaches are recommended to reduce food insecurity for Gen Z students.

Author Biographies

Christine Cardinal, MPH, JD

Assistant Professor, Population Health Department, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas

Patrick Davis, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas

Amanda Scarbrough, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Population, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas

Jesus Martinez

Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas

Dhitinut Ratnapradipa, PhD

Professor and Program Director, Interdisciplinary Studies, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska


Bronfenbrenner U: Toward an experimental ecology of human development. Am Psych. 1977; 32(7): 513-531.

Pore A: Generation Z gets to work. Newsweek Global. 2019; 172(19): 22-29.

Singh AP, Dangmei J: Understanding the generation Z: The future workforce. South Asian J Interdiscip Stud. 2016; 3(3): 1-5.

Sam Houston State University: Fact book. Available at Accessed January 21, 2021.

College Factual: SHSU demographics. How diverse is it. Available at Accessed January 21, 2021.

World Health Organization: COVID-19 dashboard. Available at Accessed January 21, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How COVID-19 spreads. Available at Accessed January 21, 2021.

Hellerstedt JH: Harvey: How public health responds to a disaster. Tex Public Health J. 2018; 70(1): 3-4.

Texas Department of State Health Services: What you need to know about COVID-19 in Texas. Tex Public Health J. 2020; 72(3): 4.

Haidari A, Kohen A, Alex S, et al.: Community-academic partnerships to promote health literacy and address social needs among low-income families during COVID-19. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.jneb.2020.10.003.

Bishop K: Why are millennials and gen Z turning to Instagram as a news source? The Guardian. July 27, 2020.

Ratnapradipa D, Cardinal C, Ratnapradipa K, et al.: Implications of Hurricane Harvey on environmental health in Harris County, Texas. J Environ Health. 2018; 2(81): 24-32.

Sealskin SK: Other retailers see ‘eye-popping profits’ as workers reap little benefit. Detroit Free Press. December 3, 2020.

Price CE, Sampson NR, Respond HA, et al.: Creating a community of practice among college campus food pantry directors in Michigan. J Community Prac. 2019; 27: 96-109.

Nagata JM, Palar K, Gooding HC, et al.: Food insecurity is associated with poorer mental health and sleep outcomes in young adults. J Adolesc Health. 2019; 65(6): 805-811. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.08.010.

El Zain A, Helmut KP, Colby S, et al.: Prevalence and correlates of food insecurity among US college students: A multi-institutional study. BMC Public Health. 2019; 19(1): 660. DOI: 10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6.

Wolfson JA, Leung CW: Food insecurity and COVID-19: Disparities in for US adults. Nutrients. 2020; 12(6): 1648. DOI: 10.3390/nu12061648.

Kite J, Foley B, Grimiest A, et al.: Please like me: Facebook and public health communication. PLoS One. 2016; 11(9): e0162765. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0162765.

Merchant RM, Lurie N: Social media and emergency preparedness in response to novel coronavirus. JAMA. 2020; 323(20): 2011- 2012. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2020.4469.

Sisley A, Islam T: Social media best practices in emergency management. J Emerg Manag. 2016; 14(2): 113-125. DOI: 10.5055/jem.2016.0278.

Goth DW: After Virginia tech: An analysis of internet and social media use in campus emergency preparedness. J Emerge Manag. 2013; 11(4): 303-312. DOI: 10.5055/jem.2013.0146.

Wexler B, Smith M-E: Disaster response and people experiencing homelessness: Addressing challenges of a population with limited resources. J Emerg Manag. 2015; 13(3): 195-200. DOI: 10.5055/jem.2015.0233.

Ansari HM, Corvine PN, Seaton MJ, et al.: The effect of training on disaster response: Lessons learned from recent events. J Emerg Manag. 2008; (5): 57.

Adams LM, Reams PK, Canclini SB: Planning for partnerships: Maximizing surge capacity resources through service learning. J Emerg Manag. 2015; 13(6): 557-564. DOI: 10.5055/jem.2015.0265.

Oden M, Chukwuma C, Ibarra AB, et al.: Emergency preparedness and recovery: A tool kit for rural communities. Tex Public Health J. 2018; 70: 7-16.

Connolly M: Aligning institutions of higher education emergency preparedness plans with the national response framework. J Emerg Manag. 2012; 10(4): 241-251. DOI: 10.5055/jem.2012.0102.

Clarifications on Definitions: Centers of Medicaid and Medicare Services. 2017. Available at Accessed December 15, 2020.

McLoughlin GM, McCarthy JA, McGuirt JT, et al.: Addressing food insecurity through a health equity lens: A COVID-19 pandemic. J Urban Health. 2020; 1-17. DOI: 10.1007/s11524-020-00476-0.

Dunn R, Sharkey J, Horel S: The effect of fast-food availability on fast-food consumption and obesity among rural residents: An analysis by race/ethnicity. Econ Hum Biol. 2012; 10: 1-13.

Lee A: K-Pop fans are taking over ‘white lives matter’ and other anti-black hashtags with memes and FANCAMS of their favorite stars. CNN. June 8, 2020.

El Zein A, Colby SE, Zhou W, et al.: Food insecurity is associated with increased risk of obesity in us college students. Curr Dev Nutr. 2020; 4(8): 120. DOI: 10.1093/cdn/nzaa120.

Contreras GW: Getting ready for the next pandemic COVID-19: Why we need to be more prepared and less scared. J Emerg Manag. 2020; 18(2): 87-89. DOI: 10.5055/jem.2020.046.



How to Cite

Cardinal, MPH, JD, C., P. Davis, PhD, A. Scarbrough, PhD, J. Martinez, and D. Ratnapradipa, PhD. “Communication Strategies to Facilitate Emergency Preparedness for Generation Z and College Food Pantries: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic”. Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 19, no. 7, Oct. 2021, pp. 99-107, doi:10.5055/jem.0578.