Rural communities are disproportionally affected by food insecurity, making them vulnerable to the consequences of supply disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While access to food was initially diminished due to food supply disruptions, little is known about the mechanisms through which federal emergency assistance programs impacted food access in rural populations. Through a series of five focus groups in spring 2021, we examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food access in a rural Appalachian community in Kentucky. Data were analyzed using a Grounded Theory Approach. Findings revealed the following four primary themes: food scarcity in grocery stores; expanded federal food assistance; expanded community food resources; and expanded home gardening. Participants provided details regarding the way increased federal assistance, especially expanded benefits within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, allowed them to purchase greater quantities of nutritious food. This study unveils the specific impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on one rural population, including the influence of some social determinants of health on food insecurity. Policymakers and stakeholders should recognize the layered protection of multiple federal emergency assistance programs against food insecurity and the potential for long-term population health promotion in rural areas.

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Published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, v. 18, issue 23, 12792.

© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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This research was funded by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO), Cooperative Agreement number 1NU58DP0065690100.