10 Food Assistance Programs That Support Families in Need

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According to the School Nutrition Association, 20.2 million students rely on free lunches at school, with 11.7 million also receiving free breakfasts. During the summer, it can be hard for these families to provide the same quality of meals from home if their school doesn’t offer meals over the break. And this year is especially difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many deal with lost jobs, furloughs, or reduced hours at work.

If your family is struggling, there are plenty of statewide and community programs that provide meals and other forms of food assistance to families in need. We’ve put together an overview and application requirements for 10 food assistance programs for families who need support.

Keep in mind that the way you apply for food assistance often varies depending on your state. In many cases, you may need to contact your local program for more information.

1. United Way 211

United Way 211 is a phone, app, and email service that can connect you with local food assistance programs as well as other resources, such as:

  • Disaster Assistance
  • Essential Needs
  • COVID-19 Pandemic Support
  • Crisis and Emergency Resources

To check if United Way 211 operates in your area, visit their homepage and enter your zip code, city, or state in the required boxes.

2. National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

Through the NSLP and the similar School Breakfast Program (SBP), schools (both public and private) and residential child care institutions provide federally-assisted meals to students from families who meet income requirements. Many of these programs also operate over the summer break.

To locate the NSLP or SBP in your area, contact your state program (which you can find here) for more information.

3. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP offers a supplemental food budget to families in need so they can buy nutritious food for their children. SNAP requirements may vary by location, so the best way to apply is by contacting your state’s SNAP program (which you can find here) and completing their application.

4. Food Banks

Food banks distribute meals and surplus food to those in need—over 4 billion meals each year. Some food banks also run a School Pantry Program, which provides fresh produce, shelf-stable items, grains, and proteins to low-income families.

To locate your community’s food bank, visit Feeding America’s Local Food Bank Finder.

5. No Kid Hungry Free Meal Finder

No Kid Hungry runs a Free Meal Finder to help families find local programs that provide free meals for children. Keep in mind, however, that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some programs listed may have restricted their hours or food options. Call ahead using the phone number in the meal finder’s listing to get the most up-to-date information.

6. Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program

The WIC program provides food grants to pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum mothers of young children up to age five who are in need of financial assistance. Because WIC eligibility requirements may vary based on your area, the best way to apply is by contacting your state’s WIC program, which you can find here.

7. Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)

If you have elderly family members in need, the CSFP provides monthly food packages to low-income adults who are at least 60 years old. To apply—or help an elderly family member apply—contact your State Distribution Agency for local requirements.

8. Summer Food Service Program

If your school district does not provide meals over the summer, this program may be a helpful alternative. While school is not in session, the Summer Food Service Program provides free healthy meals and snacks to children and teenagers from low-income households.

To check whether the Summer Food Service Program operates in your area, use their meal service site locator.

9. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

If you need food assistance due to a sudden event, this program may be able to help you. TEFAP provides emergency assistance to families in need with high-quality USDA foods that you can pick up at State Distributing Agencies.

According to their website, you can apply for TEFAP by contacting your State Distributing Agency.

10. Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)

If you live on an Indian reservation or are part of a Native American family living either near a reservation or in Oklahoma, you may be eligible for this service. FDPIR provides USDA foods to income-eligible families who meet any of the previously mentioned requirements.

For more information visit the service’s Applicant/Recipient page. To apply, contact your local Indian Tribal Organization, State Distributing Agency, or FNS regional office for more information.

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