Millions of people across the country struggle to feed themselves and their families on a consistent basis. Food insecurity and hunger a big problem in 2021.
The escalating costs of basic items, combined with the current economy and Covid 19 pandemic have made it more difficult for individuals to secure food.
If you are struggling with hunger while also looking for a job, you are not alone, and food assistance can help. Tens of millions of people receive some type of food assistance every year.
Do you need immediate assistance with food shortage?
Emergency Food Assistance
If you need immediate assistance, you can call the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) National Hunger Hotline.
The USDA National Hunger Hotline has been run by Hunger Free America™ for two years and is a resource for individuals and families looking for information on how to get food.
Hunger Hotline: 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE
The Hunger Hotline is open Monday through Friday from 7am to 10pm eastern standard time.
When you call the hotline, the staff will connect you with the emergency food providers in your community, as well as the available government assistance programs and various social services.
Government sponsored Food Assistance Programs
Here is a list of federal governments sponsored food assistance programs that you may be eligible for.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
The Food Assistance Emergency Program supports families and promotes nutrition. The program is administered at the federal level, and whose purpose is to help supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food assistance at no cost. The food provided is 100% American-grown USDA foods, and the USDA provides the funds to operate the program.
To be an eligible household, you must meet your State’s criteria to receive food for home use. States set income standards. States can adjust eligibility criteria to make sure that the food assistance is provided to only the households that are in most need.
For recipients of prepared meals, who are considered low-income, do not need to provide this information.
The total amount of food that each state receives depends on the number of employed persons as well as the number of people with incomes that are below the poverty line in that state.
Once the food is received by the state, they provide the food to their selected local agencies (usually food banks) who will then distribute the food to local organizations that directly serve the public (i.e., soup kitchens and food pantries).
States also provide food to local organizations who distribute USDA foods directly to low-income households.
The foods the USDA purchases for TEFAP vary depending on the State’s preferences and the current food market conditions. You can find the current USDA Foods Available List for TEFAP on their website.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP is a federal program, managed by the states, that helps millions of low-income Americans buy food for themselves and families. It is actually the largest program in America that works to fight hunger.
During temporary hard times, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps families get back on their feet by temporarily providing them with their basic nutritional needs during times when they would otherwise not have access to nutritious food.
The SNAP benefits are delivered monthly through electronic debit (EBT) cards. EBT cards are used to buy groceries at any of the 238,000 authorized retailers nationwide. Benefits cannot be used on nonfood items like household supplies, vitamins, and medicines, as well as any kind of alcohol or tobacco products.
Federal eligibility for SNAP is limited to people with gross incomes of up to 130% of the federal poverty line. This means that, in order to receive benefits, a family of four can make no more than $2,633 per month.
Healthy adults who do not have dependents can only receive three months of benefits (during any three-year period) if they are not working a minimum of 20 hours per week or participating in a training program.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program selects the most at-risk citizens, most of which are households with children, elderly, or disabled members. In fact, nearly 50% of SNAP participants were children.
Contact your local SNAP office for more information. Many food banks offer application assistance.
WIC is a permanent program that protects the health of low-income women, as well as provide supplemental foods, nutrition education, and healthcare referrals.
WIC is available in all 50 states, 34 Indian Tribal Organizations, American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
The food provided through this program is selected because they supplement participants’ diets with specific nutrients.
Authorized foods include infant cereal, baby foods, iron-fortified adult cereal, fruits, vegetables), vitamin C-rich fruits or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, soy-based beverages, tofu, peanut butter, dried and canned beans, canned fish, whole wheat bread and other whole-grain options.
For infants of women who do not fully breastfeed, WIC provides iron-fortified infant formula. And if medically indicated, special infant formulas and medical foods can be provided.
WIC provides more benefits than just food. As a participant, you will have access to many resources, such as health screening, nutrition counseling, breastfeeding counseling, immunization screening and referral, substance abuse referral, and more.
You can see a snapshot of the WIC Food Packages for Supplemental Foods for Children and Women here.
You can see a snapshot of the WIC Food Packages for Supplemental Foods for Infants here.
Are you eligible for WIC?
If you participate in another assistance program, such as Section 8 Housing, you may be automatically income-eligible for WIC.
If you meet certain requirements, women who are pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding, as well as infants, and children up to the age of 5 can be eligible. These requirements also include income eligibility and state residency.
A health professional or trained health official must determine that the applicant is at “nutritional risk.”
Risks recognized for WIC eligibility are either medically based (i.e., anemia, underweight, history of pregnancy complications etc.), and dietary risks (i.e., improper nutritional/feeding practices).
If you are interested in applying for WIC benefits, you should contact your state agency for information on where to schedule an appointment.
Can your child benefit from Child Nutrition Programs?
There is a number of programs designed to help fight hunger specifically among children.
National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that is operated in public schools, nonprofit-private schools, and residential childcare institutions.
NSLP provides nutritionally balanced lunches to children each day at a low-cost or no-cost
The school districts and independent schools that participate in the program receive cash subsidies and USDA foods for each reimbursable meal that they serve.
The National School Lunch Program institutions must serve food that meets Federal meal pattern requirements, as well as offer the lunches to eligible children at either a reduced price or for free.
However, the decisions of which specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by the local school food authorities.
School Breakfast Program (SBP)
The School Breakfast Program (SBP) provides reimbursement to states to run nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and residential childcare institutions.
The Food and Nutritional Service administers the School Breakfast Program at the federal level, and state education agencies administer the SBP at the state level, and local school authorities operate the p
All school breakfasts must meet Federal nutrition requirements. Decisions about the specific foods to serve, and how to prepare the foods, are made by the local school food authorities.
Special Milk Program (SMP)
The Special Milk Program provides milk to children in schools, childcare institutions, and eligible camps that do not participate in other federal child nutrition meal service programs. The Special Milk Program reimburses schools and institutions for the milk they serve as well.
Schools or institutions must offer only pasteurized fluid types of fat free or low-fat (1%) milk.
The milk must also meet all state and local standards and must contain vitamins A and D at the levels specified by the FDA.
Each child’s family must apply again each year in order to be eligible for free milk.
Child and Adult Care Food Program
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is administered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) and contributes to the wellness, health, growth, and development of children and adults in the United States.
Qualifying children and adults receive nutritious meals and snacks at centers and homes that participate in CACFP. Participating locations can be childcare centers, adult day care centers, day care homes, after school care centers, and emergency shelters, to name a few.
The CACFP helps to improve the quality, care, and affordability of day cares for low-income families. Participants in centers with household incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty line, are eligible to receive meals at a reduced price
Eligible children, including infants, must be 12 years of age or younger. However, children of migrant workers are eligible through age 15.
Eligible adults must be enrolled in an adult day care and at least 60 years of age or have physical or mentally impairments.
Children up to age 18 are eligible if they attend after school centers and emergency shelters.
Parents and guardians who are looking for nutritious meals for their children can contact their State Agency for participating care facilities.
Summer Food Service Program
The Summer Service Program (SFSP) is a federally funded, state-administered program that reimburses program operators who serve free healthy meals and snacks to children and teens (18 years and younger) in low-income areas when school is not in session.
Sites are safe and supervised places in the community where children can receive meals. The sites are located in a variety of settings, such as, schools, parks, community centers, health clinics, churches, and more.
Team Nutrition is an initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service that supports national efforts of promoting sustainable food and fitness behaviors, by improving nutritional practices.
Their goal is to build support and provide resources that will change behavior.
Team Nutrition delivers messages to children and their caregivers through the following: food service initiatives, classroom and childcare activities, school-wide events, home activities, community programs and events, social media, and traditionally, in person.
Team Nutrition also provides training and technical assistance for food service, nutrition education for children and caregivers, as well as promote healthy eating and physical activity in schools and communities.
Community Food Systems
The Office of Community Food Systems (OCFS) helps child nutrition program operators incorporate local foods into the programs (National School Lunch Program and its associated programs, Summer Food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program).
The Office of Community Food System provides this help through grants, training and technical assistance, and research.
Charitable Hunger Assistance Programs may be the answer for you
There are dozens of charities and none-profit organizations across the US which are working around the clock to end hunger in America.
Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization that helps feed the hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks.
Feeding America also works with manufacturers, distributors, retailers, food service companies, and farmers to gather food before it goes to waste.
The Feeding America network of food banks, pantries, and meal programs serves nearly every community in the country, and have provided over 4.3 billion meals annually, in turn, helping 1 in 7 Americans who face hunger live a more secure life.
WhyHunger provides critical resources to support to grassroots movements and encourage community solutions that are socially just.
WhyHunger accomplishes this through their many programs, some of which are:
Grassroots Action Network
Artists Against Hunger & Poverty
Nourish Network for the Right to Food
Global Movements Program
Why Hunger Hotline
86% of the donations WhyHunger receives goes directly to program work. They are dedicated to protecting and advancing the right to nutritious food for all. Their mission is to “find(s) solutions to hunger that transform and last.”
Meals on Wheels America
Meals on Wheels America is an organization that supports more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that focus on addressing senior isolation and hunger.
Meals on Wheels provides funding, leadership, education, research and advocacy support.
Their goal is to empower local community programs to improve the health and quality of life of the seniors within their community, making sure that no one is ever hungry or isolated.
Salvation Army Food Pantries
The Salvation Army Food Pantries work to fight against hunger and food insecurity.
They have provided over 56 million meals annually, and work to help people, who are considered the most vulnerable, to escape food insecurity. They help those in need while maintaining their independence and dignity.
The Salvation Army Food Pantries supply free fresh produce, canned goods, and healthy frozen items, as well as foods that are valuable meal supplementation.
The Salvation Army also has meal programs. Their sit-down programs provide nutritious hot meals and human interaction, and their mobile meals deliver sustenance to those who can’t access food distribution centers.
Food pantries near you
Free food pantries are located throughout the country. There are tens of thousands of charities, churches, non-profit, and other groups who fight hunger by feeding struggling households.
Even if there is not a food bank near where you live, you may still be offered referrals or even low-cost delivery food service.
Each pantry runs differently – the hours, application process, and regulations, will vary depending on where you go. No matter how the food pantry you go to runs things, they will try to help you, and every other applicant, never turning anyone away, even if you have a felony conviction.
Food assistance is needed by many, especially during uncertain times, and there are many programs, services, initiatives, organizations, and charities that want to help.
We encourage you to review the resources provided throughout this article. Not only will you learn what is available to you, but you can determine which solution is best for you and your family.
Please share with out community in the comments below which hunger assistance programs have helped you.