Legit Free Food Assistance Programs in the United States

It can be extremely difficult for any individual when they lack the basic essential needs for living a healthy life. Unfortunately, for many families, having to do without food, clothing, shelter, or a combination of the three, is a very real day to day circumstance. One in six people in America face hunger every day. In these tough economic times, increasing bills, rent, and the unemployment rate add a great deal of stress to the challenge of meeting daily needs. In a 2011 study, the USDA showed that households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children.

More and more people are relying on government agencies, charities, food banks and pantries to feed themselves. Over 50 million people struggle to put food on the table every day. Poverty is the main cause for hunger, but adding the factors of the national unemployment rate and the constantly rising cost of living, leaves many families not being able to meet ends meet.  Among minorities, African-Americans and Latinos are generally at a higher risk of facing hunger.

A depressing reality, is that over 40% of produced food is thrown out in the US every year! This equates to billions of dollars worth of food lost. All of this unused food could feed over 25 million Americans. U.N. studies show that the world already produces more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet. It also shows that we have the capacity to produce even more! According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a child dies because of hunger and malnutrition every six seconds. It is also a fact that those most prone to hunger are women, children, single mothers, the elderly, the homeless, the unemployed, ethnic and racial minorities, and the working poor.

Government Food Assistance Programs

Government food programs are state or nation-wide programs financed and run by the government. These programs are designed to help millions of low income person who don’t have access, through financial inability, to nutritious foods. The programs typically focus on lower income women, single moms, and children, though some of the programs are open to individuals (i.e. men and single fathers too).

To apply for government help, you’ll need to look at the specific food program and make an application. It can take time to both set up an appointment and complete an application. As such, many of the government help programs are NOT instant emergency food assistance. You’ll need weeks to months before you gain acceptance in most cases and due to the high volume of applicants, you may find your application rejected or delayed.

If you need emergency food help, look at our charity assistance programs or food bank programs in the next sections. These are sources more able to deal with instant food assistance.

1. National School Lunch Program

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program. It works with both public and not for profit agencies, schools and child care institutions. Its job is to provide nutritionally balanced, low-cost, and free lunches to school aged children. In 1946, the National School Lunch Act was created to ensure children’s dietary needs are being met. Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. As many as 50% of children don’t eat breakfast, and 90% do not have access to summer meal sites. School lunches must meet federal nutritional standards to ensure that all children receive a healthy meal. Laws are also in place to ensure that there are special accommodations made for allergies and religious beliefs. Go to the webpage here.

2. School Lunch Programs

The USDA also oversees that healthy, affordable, meals are provided to at-risk afterschool care centers, adult day care centers, child care centers, day care homes and emergency shelters. Click here for a directory of your local agency. To apply for food assistance for your school aged child click here.

3. SNAP

One in seven people are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half of them are single parents with children. SNAP offers food cash assistance to millions of low-income individuals and families. It also provides economic relief and benefits to local communities. SNAP is one of the largest programs covering our domestic hunger epidemic. The Food and Nutrition Service works with communities, state agencies, educators, and faith-based organizations to ensure that those individuals who meet eligibility are provided with assistance. The Food and Nutrition Service also works with the retail and private community.

To see if you qualify for SNAP benefits, you may use this pre screening tool. Before you begin, you may want to prepare your paperwork by gathering any information you have in reference to your income and expenses. They will ask you about  your earnings, including rent payments, monthly bills, mortgage, child support, child care expenses, medical bills, dependent care payments, SSI, social security or VA benefits.

Income Standards

To qualify for SNAP, households need to meet the below income standards, unless all members are recipients of TANF, SSI or other government assistance as per the USDA requirements. The below chart shows household size versus gross monthly income; which is the income you receive before taxes and other deductions are withdrawn.

Household SizeGross Monthly IncomeNet Monthly Income
1$1276.00$981.00
2$1726.00$1328.00
3$2177.00$1675.00
4$2628.00$2021.00
5$3078.00$2368.00
6$3529.00$2715.00
7$3980.00$3061.00

Each additional member is allowed $451.00.

4) CSFP

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) serves over 600,000 low-income individuals every month. The program, run by the USDA, provides food assistance specifically targeted at low-income seniors, although it assists families as well.

The USDA works diligently to promote the nutritional needs of its participants. With so many families and senior citizens facing hunger in America, the CSFP is responsible for administering funds to local communities and private organizations for education on nutritional meals.

5) WIC

WIC stands for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). It focuses on the health of women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are low-income, and at nutritional risk. It is a fact that households with young children are more likely to lack proper nutrition than those households with no children. WIC’s goal is to protect the health of its participants by educating and providing funds for specific meal items like milk, eggs, cheese and baby formula.

Research shows that poor nutrition in children may cause serious health risks including anemia, decreased memory development and slowed learning. WIC works to prevent health problems by supporting this crucial  time in a child’s life. The below is required to receive WIC:

  • Women who are pregnant and up to 6 weeks post birth, as well as breast feeding women.
  • Infants up to age 1.
  • Children up to age 5.
  • Must meet residential requirements.
  • Must meet low-income guidelines.

6) Summer Food Assistance Program (SFSP)

During the summer, when school is on break, many children face the possibility of  hunger. The SFSP works hard to provide up to two meals a day during summer months. Most schools, churches, summer camps, and community organizations participate in the summer program.

Children who come from low income households, or whose familias already receive SNAP or TANF automatically qualify. Also, if a child resides in an area that is classified high poverty, that child that attends the site will receive free meals. For participating areas, click the link above.

Charity Food Assistance

These are programs that provide free food and clothing assistance to those in need. These can function as emergency shelters and food assistance for abused women, homeless, and households in desperate need. We list some of the main programs, but if you look into your local area, you may find ‘churches’ or womens shelters set up that you can apply for aid to. You are recommended to actually CALL a local office / agency. So make sure you do research of your local area as there are many options if you look.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army was originally created as part of the Christian Church. Its objective is the advancement of the Christian religion, education, fighting poverty, and other works that benefit the community. For over 150 years, it has successfully assisted countless families across the world with food, furniture, clothing, community events and many other resources.

The Salvation Army is also keen on creating jobs and employment opportunities for individuals from all walks of life. To find employment opportunities please visit their website.

Local Churches

Churches often have an assistance program set up, or at the very least will be able to refer you to a place that can help. If you need emergency shelter or food help now, please look at your local churches and call for information about possible food aid.

Local Women’s Shelters

Women’s shelters are another non-profit option you can look into for food assistance. These homes are often set up to house abused women and homeless women, but they may be able to offer food help as well. You should look in your local area for any local women’s shelters and call them.

Emergency Food Assistance in Disasters

In the event of a catastrophe (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, etc) there are some big organizations that will provide aid and assistance.

The Red Cross

The American Red Cross is universally known for its network of volunteers, donors and partners. The Red Cross mission is to be there in time of need. They aspire to help as many people as possible during a disaster. Across the world, the Red Cross is known for providing blood and blood products and other resources. They are also known to assist military families and local communities.

National Hunger Hotline 1-866-3-HUNGRY

WhyHunger is an online database dedicated to finding, supporting and assisting community-based organizations and emergency food providers. Their mission is to aid in fighting hunger by providing up to date resources to assist those in need. They host community programs that help strengthen movements for food, social and human rights justice.

Private Companies That Offer Free Food

Below we list eight private companies that are helping with the fight against hunger. You can see most of these brands in every neighborhood. To reach the corporate office and inquire about meal programs near you click on the store.

  1. Panera Bread Phone Number (855) 372 6372
    2. Darden Restaurants   Phone Number             (407) 245 4000
    3. Kellogg                    Phone Number             (800) 962 1413
  2. Yum! Brands Phone Number (800) 225 5532
    5. General Mills            Phone Number             (800) 248 7310
    6. Morgan Stanley        Phone Number             (888) 454 3965
  3. Cisco Phone Number (800) 553 6387
    8. Walmart                   Phone Number             (800) 331 0085

Food Banks 

Below you will find a directory of statewide food banks. A food bank collects food to distribute to charities. This also includes food pantries. The food pantries then distribute food and grocery items to families, children, seniors, and others at risk of hunger. Last year, more than 4 billion meals were provided to people in need through food banks. Food banks are a great way to find weekly food assistance in person.

US Food Bank Directory

We have listed 3 food pantries in every major city. If your location is not listed, please call a food pantry in your State. They will give you the information to the nearest food bank. There is also a detailed directory on Food Pantries.org. You may also call FoodUSA – The Food Stamp Information Center at 1-800-FOODUSA.

New York, N.Y.

Greenpoint Reformed Church Food Pantry

Brooklyn, NY – 11222

718-383-5941

Reaching-Out Community Services

Brooklyn, NY – 11214

718-373-4565

Momentum Project Inc @ Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

New York, NY – 10023

(212) 691-2960

Los Angeles, California

Zion Lutheran Church

Anaheim, CA – 92805

714-535-1169

The Rock

Anaheim, CA – 92801

714-776-5761

Spanish United Pentecostal

Orange, CA – 92866

714-356-7172

Chicago

Olive Branch Mission – Program Operations

Chicago, IL – 60636

(773) 476-6200

A Just Harvest

Chicago, IL – 60626

773-262-2297

Heartland Health Outreach

Chicago, IL – 60640

773-751-4109

Houston, Texas

Houston Charity Center

Houston, TX – 77045

713-433-0334

The Houston Food Bank

Houston, TX – 77029

713-223-3700

You Belong Food Bank

Houston, TX – 77040

(713) 983-7878

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

SHARE Food Program

Philadelphia, PA – 19129

215-223-2220

Peter’s Food Cupboard

Philadelphia, PA – 19106

215-925-5968

North Light Community Center

Philadelphia, PA – 19127

215-483-4800

Phoenix, Arizona

Paradise Valley Emergency Food Bank

Phoenix, AZ – 85028

(602) 867-9228

Phoenix Food Bank Community Relations

Phoenix, AZ – 85031

(602) 242-3663

Desert Mission Food Bank

Phoenix, AZ – 85020

(602) 870-6062

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio Food Bank

San Antonio, TX – 78227

(210) 337-3663

Irene Teague Food Pantry

San Antonio, TX – 78252

210-663-3195

Oasis Outreach Mission

San Antonio, TX – 78216

(210) 349-2290

San Diego, California

San Diego Food Bank

San Diego, CA – 92121

(858) 527-1419

San Diego Rescue Mission: Emergency Food

San Diego, CA – 92104

619-687-3720
Ocean Beach Emergency Food, Inc

San Diego, CA – 92107

619-222-0628

Dallas, Texas

FWM Learning Center

Dallas, TX – 75217

(214) 398-4444

St Philip’s School and Community Center

Dallas, TX – 75215

214-421-5221

West Dallas Multipurpose Center

Dallas, TX – 75212

214-670-6340

San Jose, California

Food Connection

San Jose, CA – 95125

Martha”s Kitchen

San Jose, CA – 95110

African American Community Center

San Jose, CA – 95112

(408)292-3157

Austin, Texas

Capital Area Food Bank – Austin

Austin, TX – 78745

(512) 282-2111

Micah 6 Food Pantry

Austin, TX – 78705

(512) 473-0088

Jacksonville, Florida

Mandarin Food Bank

Jacksonville, FL – 32258

(904) 292-16750

Feeding Northeast Florida

Jacksonville, FL – 32254

(904) 513-1333

Jewish Family & Community Services

Jacksonville , FL – 32217

(904)448-1933

San Francisco , California

Slow Food Nation

San Francisco, CA – 94105

415.369.9950

Food Runners

San Francisco, CA – 94115

415-929-1866

San Francisco Food Bank

San Francisco, CA – 94107

(415) 282-1900

Indianapolis, Indiana

Midwest Food Bank

Indianapolis, IN – 46217

(317) 786-8980

 Hunger Inc.

Indianapolis, IN – 46227

(317) 782-3321      

 Salvation Army Ft. Square

Indianapolis, IN – 46203-1944

(317) 632-0156

Columbus, Ohio

Champion Avenue Food Pantry

Columbus, OH – 43206

(614) 443-5130

Westside Food Pantry Columbus OH
Columbus, OH – 43204

(614) 279-4635

HandsOn Central Ohio Foodline

Columbus, OH – 43215

614-341-2282

In Conclusion

If you find yourself in the need of food, do not hesitate to ask for help! There are many city, state and private organizations dedicated to ensure individuals and families have healthy, nutritional food available. The first step is to contact your local Department of Health and Human Services. They are your first line in defense in ensuring your family gets all the help you may need.