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Government and non-profit food assistance programs.

There are numerous state, federal, and local government food assistance programs that can help low income families. There are also resources offered directly by charities, churches as well as non-profit organizations. People that need help paying for groceries, meals or free food for their families or themselves have a number of options available to them.

All of these local charities, government agencies and non-profit organizations are committed to helping low income families. They do this by offering low cost or free food programs to the needy. Some of the more common programs include SNAP food stamps, Meals on Wheels or free lunches for students. They were created to help end hunger and meet the nutritional needs of low income households as well as other groups, including senior citizens or disabled. There is also support for the unemployed, seniors, children, and the working poor.

Government food programs run by the Department of Agriculture

Several distribution programs give free food, commodities, and groceries to needy households. They tend to a focus on homes with children or senior citizens. Assistance may also be provided directly to local non-profit organizations that then provide the meal service to low-income people. Some of the places that may be involved in distribution of these surplus USDA commodities include soup kitchens, churches and homeless shelters.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):
This is the primary federal government funded food assistance program. Millions of people currently use it, however there are also hundreds of thousands of other households that qualify for an EBT card but that have just never applied. This program used to be known as Food Stamps but was renamed SNAP.

Tens of millions of low income individuals across the country as well as families living in poverty turn to for help every single year. It is the main USDA hunger prevention program. There are numerous conditions in order to be qualified for the SNAP / food stamp benefit. They include the following.




People who are applying in your household must able-bodied and between the ages of 18 and 60. They need to have or apply for a Social Security number and be either a U.S. national, U.S. citizen, an American Indian born in Canada or Mexico or have status as a qualified alien. An applicant will need to have both a limited income, and also not many assets or resources in their name. There are several other conditions and criteria for the Supplemental Nutrition Food Assistance Program. Read more on SNAP food stamps.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC):
A federal government assistance program that provides nutritious foods and commodities to supplement the diets of low-income pregnant, postpartum and breast-feeding women, newborns, children up to five years of age, as well as infants. In addition, the WIC program provides nutrition education on living healthier. This includes information and referrals to health services, community clinics and other government assistance programs.

The WIC program is administered by the Department of Agriculture through state and local government health departments. Eligibility for any type of food aid is based on an applicants total household income and on their overall nutritional risk as determined by a qualified health professional or doctor. Learn more and how to apply for WIC.

Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP):
This food assistance program use to be called the Nutrition Program for the Elderly (or NPE). The government benefit was created to help older people and senior citizens to ensure they have the support they need. The NSIP program is run by the federal department Department of Health and Human Services through the state agencies on aging. NPE is part of the Grants for State and Community Programs on Aging, which also authorizes in-home resources, visitations, and services for frail elderly people, support services, information and other aid for senior center operations.





The nutrition services program provides elderly and senior Americans with nutritious groceries, free food, and meals. In addition, neighborhood centers in your town or county are available for the elderly. This locations serve clients of all incomes with well-balanced, cold or hot meals at least once a day. This can include a free lunch or dinner up to five days a week to seniors and others with a low income.

When possible, transportation assistance is also offered to and from the sites for those who need it. Last, but not least, home-delivered meals, usually called “Meals on Wheels,” are provided to elderly and senior citizen people. This delivery service may also be for the disabled who are qualified as homebound and who can’t make it to a center.

School Lunch and Breakfast Assistance Program:
Provides food and meals to children at schools. Qualified low-income children and students will be able to get these meals for free or at a reduced price from this federal government government funded resource. Even children who have moderate income may be able to get reasonably priced meals, so this benefit is not only for students that come from a household living in poverty. Get more details on the School Lunch and Breakfast program.

Child and Adult Care Food Program:
This is a program that offers snacks, meals, and food to children as well as infants. The distribution will take place in family day care homes or centers and other health care locations across the nation. In addition, the program may be able to support adults and elderly people that live in nursing home or day care situations.

Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program:
Offers low-income senior citizens (which includes those individuals who are at least 60 years old) with grocery and food coupons during the harvest season. In general, they will be given a voucher from the government. It can be exchanged for eligible food, fruits, vegetables, dairy items, and more at farmers’ markets. The voucher can also be used at community supported agriculture programs as well as roadside stands.

Commodity Supplemental Food Programs (CSFP):
This federal government food assistance program is similar to WIC. However, in addition to helping women and children, it will also offer food assistance to seniors and people who are over 60 years of age. There may be free baby formula for infants, ensure for seniors, and other resources. It provides USDA commodity foods to improve the health and nutrition of qualified individuals. Read more Commodity Supplemental Food Programs.

Feeding America BackPack:
Students can receive free groceries, meals, snacks and other food items from this nationwide program. All items are provided at no cost to the student, no matter their income. In addition, the food is provided in a discreet and confidential manner.

A backpack full of groceries, healthy snacks and food will be provide to the student so they have some form of nutrition over the weekend or a holiday break. Their family can also receive items. The Feeding America program can also offer items to the student over the weekend or holidays. Call 800.771.2303, or get more details on Feeding America backpack programs for students.





WhyHunger National Hunger Hotline:
Anyone that is struggling can get referrals to charity run food pantries and other assistance programs that are local to them. The information is provided to callers by this non-profit organization, and its staff will also distribute information on all of the government created resources.

Anyone that dials the hotline can learn about application sites for SNAP food stamps, free school lunches and many other government programs. The Clearinghouse and all of the other services from the non-profit is committed to ending hunger and directing people to programs that can help them. The staff can also help people apply for these resources. Learn more on the National Hunger Hotline.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program:
Each state will receive surplus food from the federal government. Your state will then work with local food banks and pantries, churches, soup kitchens, charities, and non-profits in order to distribute the items to the needy. All of the support provided as part of TEFAP is free, and you just need to call to make arrangements to pick it up. A focus is on feeding seniors, children, and individuals with disabilities. Continue with the Emergency Food Assistance program known as TEFAP.

Summer Food Service Program:
This is a service that offers free groceries, meals, food and snacks to needy children during the months when school is not in session, such as summer or winter break. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) but is administered locally by churches, pantries, and non-profits such as the Salvation Army. So when a student can’t get a hot lunch or breakfast at their school, this program may be able to help. It is available in all states. Read more on Summer Food Service Program.

For more information about these or other government food assistance programs contact your local county benefit office. The locations to try include department of social services, health centers, community clinics, agriculture, aging offices or school. Click here for state and non-profit financial help and to also find agencies and program names at the state level.

Non-profit food assistance programs and charities

Salvation Army:
This non-profit agency has locations in almost all states and counties across the nation. They provide a variety of emergency food assistance programs to millions of individuals per year. Most branches run a food bank and/or offer a pantry on site. Some also have soup kitchens for families living in poverty.

The Salvation Army can both provide free food, meals and groceries on its own, and they also partner with other local agencies. Some of them include food banks, government agencies, distribution centers, and charity organizations. Special holiday meals and baskets may be offered too, including for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Find a listing of Salvation Army locations by state. Find details on hunger prevention from the Salvation Army.







Non-profit Community Action Agencies:
Every county is supported by one of these offices. The case management staff and volunteers at the community action agencies provide extensive information on options available to them. The specialists can often help qualified low income families apply for free food, meals, government commodities, and other assistance. Contact a local center to learn about resources such as SNAP food stamps, the Women, Infants and Children program, and additional resources. Locate an office in your state, town, or county. Read about applying for help from community action agencies.

Food Banks from Feeding America network:
This is the nation’s largest anti-hunger, non-profit organization. They partner directly with hundreds of local food banks in all states. Those locations, as well as the pantries, soup kitchens, and other organizations that are part of the network, provide the food and grocery items to the less fortunate.

The local sites also participates in many other government programs and can offer referrals. For example, many of the Feeding America locations have applications for services such as SNAP food stamps, free home delivered meals for seniors and disabled, or the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. So both short and long term support is available. More details on assistance from Feeding America.

Churches provide food assistance:
Many churches distribute free food, groceries, and meals to qualified individuals and families. They feed everyone from the homeless to unemployed. They can run their own food banks and pantries, or fund and partner with other agencies. Read more additional assistance programs offered by churches.

There are several national non-profit charity organizations that provide groceries, vegetables, fruits, and free food and nutritional assistance to those who need help. A focus is on families living under poverty guidelines and parents with children. Find more information on the charity food assistance programs.

Boxes of food from Gaballi:
The organization is a faith based group that can assist families of all religions, backgrounds, and income levels. They sell food boxes at anywhere from 30 to 70% off the regular retail price, and they are available nationwide. A referral program is also available and that provides certain people with free groceries and food. The boxes contain high quality, fresh, and healthy items and the savings are obtained from bulk buying techniques. Read more about Gaballi.

Mid America Foods discount food boxes:
Buy restaurant quality food at a discounted price from this non-profit organization. It partners with many churches in the middle part of the country. The program may allow a family of four to feed themselves for about $100 per month. There are no income limits, frees or restrictions in place, and anyone can use this service from Mid America Foods. Continue with Mid America food boxes.

Discounts from Smart Choice:
While not as large of an operation as some other non-profits, they do operate in several parts of the country. The non-profit organization will sell boxes of food, groceries, snacks, meats and more. The items will assist consumers by saving them about 40-60% off of what they would pay at a grocery store. More on Smart Choice food boxes.

Angel Food Ministries:
This is a non-profit charity organization that offers nutritional and food assistance programs in all 50 states. While they do not provide free food, what they do is offer all people, no matter their income or financial situation, low cost groceries. The services they offer provide food at about 50% off the retail price, and it is available in unlimited quantities. Learn more on low cost grocery boxes.

Treasure Valley Food Box:
This is another national organization that provides food boxes to anyone who needs help, regardless of their income, background, religion, or age. The name of the program administered is the Good Faith Food box, and it can provide families with groceries and other healthy items valued at about $60.

It is affordable, as the box will only cost individuals about $35. They can even pay for it using their government benefits, such as the EBT food stamp card. So people will therefore save about 40% on their monthly grocery expenditures. There are no additional sign up or monthly fees to pay. Click here for details on Good Faith box.

Discounts from OneHarvest Food Ministries:
The faith based organization offers reduced priced boxes of food and groceries to families of all religions, incomes and backgrounds. There are no restrictions. However the organization does focus on providing assistance in the southern and eastern states, such as Texas, Florida, Georgia, and several others. Families can save up to 50% on their groceries, fruits, vegetables and other grocery items. More on OneHarvest discounted food.







Home Delivered Meals:
Seniors, disabled, and the homebound can contact the Meals on Wheels program for free or low cost home delivered meals or boxes of food. It will usually be provided in the form of a noontime lunch. Charity organizations, agency on aging offices and senior centers across the country offer the program in most towns and cities.

Thousands of volunteers, food pantries and other local businesses donate their time and resources to help ensure the success of their local Meals on Wheels program. The participants will also check up on the health of the client as well as help them apply for government assistance programs, such as surplus commodity foods. Seniors and others who can’t make it out of their home, and who need some form of food delivered to them, should contact a non-profit in their area. Read more on Meals on Wheels.

By Jon McNamara

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