Struggling to Keep the Fridge Stocked? Here Are 9 Ways to Get Free Food
Nobody should have to go hungry, but unfortunately, many people do. Approximately 55 million Americans confess that it’s hard for them to afford food, and 1 out of 6 people regularly experience hunger due to food insecurity or scarcity.
Lack of food can make you physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. You may find it difficult to hold down a job, maintain relationships, or perform everyday tasks when you’re hungry. Over time, you may even develop chronic health problems from vitamin deficiencies.
I don’t want that to happen to any of you, so check out the resources below if you need food. This is not a full list, but it’s enough to get you started.
1) Apply for Food Stamps
I always recommend applying for food stamps first when people tell me they struggle to pay for food. Unfortunately, many people tell me they can’t. Not because they don’t qualify, but because they’re embarrassed about applying.
There’s nothing embarrassing about receiving help from a food assistance program to keep your family healthy. Approximately 40 million people receive food stamps, some of which might be your friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers. Food stamps feed families, but they also help the United States survive economically.
Not sure what food stamps are or how to get them?
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, provides food stamps for individuals and families who meet specific income requirements. The income requirements vary by state, and you can generally earn more money without losing eligibility if you have kids or other dependents.
I’ll be honest: It’s difficult to get approved in some states. You have to submit a ton of paperwork, participate in interviews with questions like “Are you a felon freeing to avoid prosecution?”, and verify everything from income to rental history. After you submit all this info, the agency that issues food stamps has 30 days or so to review your info.
But wait…what if you need food now?
Request emergency food stamps. If you don’t have any income or money in the bank, you might qualify.
Click here to find out how to get food stamps in your state.
2) Request WIC Benefits
Not eligible for food stamps? You might still qualify for WIC benefits.
WIC, which stands for Women, Infants, and Children, provides assistance to at-risk women and kids. Kids don’t qualify after the age of 5, so this program isn’t an option for parents with older kiddos.
I received WIC with my first child, but I didn’t qualify with my other two. I breastfed, so WIC gave me a free breast pump and taught me how to use it. My daughter is a teen now, so I don’t remember much else about my experience.
If you don’t breastfeed, no biggie — WIC provides formula for your baby. You also get checks for things like fresh produce, tuna, peanut butter, and milk.
3) Visit Food Pantries
A food pantry is a great place to go if you’re experiencing a temporary financial setback. Food pantries aren’t a practical long-term solution because many of them limit the number of weekly or monthly visits you can make.
Some food pantries require you to meet strict income requirements, but that’s not always the case. Many pantries give food to anyone who shows up, no questions asked. Make sure you bring your ID, a check stub, and your Social Security card in case you’re asked to verify income or identity.
You might need an appointment to visit your local food pantries. It’s best to call food pantries near you rather than just showing up at their buildings with no notice.
Some food pantries provide fresh veggies and frozen food, while others focus on canned and boxed goods. Learn how to make some easy meals out of food pantry staples, such as chili mac and dessert rice, here.
Need help finding food pantries? Google phrases like “food pantry near me” or “food assistance near me” to find food pantries in your area. Don’t search for “food banks near me” because food banks are different than food pantries. Food banks work with the agencies that distribute food; they don’t deal directly with people who need food.
4) Talk to Local Churches
You don’t have to be religious to get help from local churches, but I do recommend contacting your home church if you are a member somewhere. If not, find the Catholic church in your city. Even if they can’t help you, they’ll probably know who can.
Some churches keep nonperishable food on hand for emergency situations. There are also churches that give gift cards to families in need.
Your local church may also help you tackle whatever issues made it hard for you to afford food. For example, they may help pay a high electric bill for a couple months rather than handing you a bag of food. This frees up your income for groceries and helps you get back on your feet financially.
5) Contact Your Kids’ School
Does your kids’ school have a social worker or counselor? Let them know that you’re going through a rough time, and ask if they have any resources for your family.
My kids’ school district offers nonperishable goods for families in need. I’ll never forget the time the principal from my daughter’s old school showed up at my apartment with a bag of groceries. She heard my ex had recently moved out, so she brought some food to help (I didn’t request the food). I cried as she wished me happy holidays and told me things were going to be okay.
6) Speak With the Salvation Army
Do you have a Salvation Army in your area? The Salvation Army often provides free food to local families. I’ve never visited the Salvation Army, but I’ve been told you need an appointment or a referral for services. You can get a referral from a church or an agency like the Division of Family Services.
The Salvation Army near me often hosts local events that anyone can attend. Sometimes they’re for food, and sometimes they’re for clothing or toys. You might have something similar in your area.
Click here to find a local Salvation Army.
7) Request a Self-Sufficiency Grant
As I mentioned earlier, some agencies prefer to treat the cause of poverty rather than just slapping a bandage on it. If you find one of these agencies, you can apply for a self-sufficiency grant. The grant might have another name in your state, but it’s basically money than you can use to better your life.
The agency doesn’t just hand you money; they make payments on your behalf. Here are some potential expenses you can pay with a self-sufficiency grant:
- College tuition or job training
- Clothing or transportation for work
- Medical expenses
You don’t have to repay a self-sufficiency grant, but the agency may request that you sign up for volunteer work or meet other requirements.
Some Catholic charities offer self-sufficiency grants. You might also be able to apply for assistance through a website like Modest Needs.
8) Attend Seasonal Events
During the holiday season, many agencies offer free meals. You can often find free Thanksgiving dinners and free Christmas meals in large cities. These meals are generally open to the public and don’t require attendees to meet any specific requirements.
Some seasonal meals are only for children. Thousands of agencies offer free food during the summer for kids under the age of 18. Because of the pandemic, there are also numerous school districts that offer free meals for students regardless of income.
9) Call 211 for Help
Need more resources? Contact 211 to find other food assistance programs in your area. 211 doesn’t just provide information about food pantries, though. You can talk to 211 if you need:
- Employment assistance
- Childcare assistance
- Help paying utilities or rent
- Mental health care
211 can also help with items/resources not listed above.
Sometimes it’s difficult to afford food, even if you work full time or rely on coupons and rebates. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact the agencies listed in this article.