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Government Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

Food items, meals, and groceries are distributed to low income families and individuals living in poverty. The aid is provided from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. Find states and application information for emergency TEFAP near you below.

TEFAP was created and is ultimately paid for by the federal government, but local non-profits administer the service. The resources was intended to help low income individuals as well as entire families receive food, groceries, and meals. Note it is a supplementary program and it was never intended to provide for 100% of a family’s food needs.

The amount of support from TEFAP is limited. It can provide qualified individuals, including seniors and disabled, with free emergency food, commodities and nutrition assistance at no cost to participants. All rules and regulations are established by your state.

The way the program works is as follows. Surplus federal government commodity foods, groceries, and staples are provided to states across the nation. The government will provide the food based on the number of unemployed individuals in the state as well as the overall poverty level, so the scope of the service will change from year to year.

The individual states then work with food banks, pantries, social service offices, and charities in their region. These local partners will directly distribute the items to the needy in their local communities, and they will also process applications to TEFAP. Most of the distribution centers are local food banks.

Then there is yet another level of participation in The Emergency Food Assistance Program. What happens is that those food banks as well as non-profit agencies that receive the USDA government aid will then proceed to subcontract with other organizations. Some of these subcontractors can include soup kitchens, hunger relief centers or other food centers, such as even neighborhood churches or charities. So the program is really run at the local neighborhood level.




Almost 100 different types of food products are provided by the The Emergency Food Assistance Program TEFAP program. Qualified low income and working poor individuals may be able to receive meat/poultry/fish, canned fruits and vegetables, milk, peanut butter, jelly, soups, pasta, juices, and much more. Most of it will be canned and/or non-perishable. Items are offered at no cost.

While not as common, some states may provide help in the form of brown bag programs to the elderly or summer lunches to school kids who are out on break. So each local government may adjust accordingly.

Who to call to get help from The Emergency Food Assistance Program?

To provide more details on what is noted above, the free food and commodities are distributed by many different agencies. Anyone that is low income or needy should call on the following types of groups to apply for emergency TEFAP.

Food pantries are really defined as non-profit and/or charity organizations that distributes groceries, canned goods and free food to the unemployed, seniors as well as any other low income households. Most pantries will get their grocery items and related products directly from more regional food banks. So, as an example, a pantry in a town may partner with a food bank that covers multiple counties in the state. Click here to find locations of free food banks in your region.

Soup Kitchens are usually open on a fixed schedule/regular basis. They will provide free hot and nutritious meals to the needy in the community, and many locations will also assist the homeless. Most soup kitchens also receive their food from the TEFAP program as well as their local food bank. Many locations also have special holiday meals including Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas. So they may be able to provide a place to go to for a hot holiday meal, gifts, and a caring environment.

Many Community Action Agencies also participate with the federal government Emergency Food Assistance Program. These local non-profits can distribute USDA surplus commodities to unemployed and low-income households at set times. Or if a community action agency doesn’t participate in the program, they can usually direct someone to a place to go to for emergency food assistance.





A large number of the food distribution centers that are part of TEFAP network will receive their commodities directly from a state contracted warehouse. These sites can be scattered around a county. The order will usually be placed through a state agency or government organization. For information on them, call the United Way helpline.

To get more information on The Emergency Food Assistance Program in your state, you can contact your local community action agency, state social service office, or a local food bank. A listing of public and social service agencies is below. Or find additional government assistance programs and resources.

State social service and public aid offices



























New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota






West Virginia













By Jon McNamara


















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