When I need help with food, it can be difficult to know where to turn first. Sometimes our paychecks are lower than anticipated, we lose a source of income unexpectedly, or our EBT runs out before the end of the month.
No matter the reason I need help with food, the bottom line is, I need to find resources as quickly as possible. Below are three types of resources that can be helpful when you are in need of food assistance.
I need help with food: SNAP & WIC resources
SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program)
If you’re visiting this page, you may already have access to SNAP/Food Stamps and are in need of additional help with food. If that is the case, scroll down for information about where to find food pantries, soup kitchens, and mutual aid networks.
If you’re finding it difficult to purchase enough food for yourself and your family, then one of the best things you can do is to apply for SNAP. You might also hear this referred to as EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer). This program helps low income individuals and families purchase groceries.
Eligibility requirements vary somewhat depending on what state you live in, but generally, if the income you report to the IRS is less than 130% of the poverty line for your household size, you would be eligible. Even if you think your income may be too high, or you may be disqualified for another reason, you should apply anyway. There are so many variables that can affect your eligibility that the only way to know whether you qualify is to apply.
There are some individuals who may be eligible on a temporary basis during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, college students who have an “expected family contribution” of $0 to their tuition and fees, or are eligible for the federal work study program qualify for SNAP in every state on a temporary basis.
SNAP is administered on the state level, meaning that in order to find out if you qualify and apply, you will need to contact your state’s SNAP office. Each state’s contact information is available through this interactive map.
WIC (Women Infants Children)
Fewer people are eligible for WIC than for SNAP, but this program can be helpful if you are having difficulty affording food. WIC is for pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to the age of 5 who have a low income.
Like SNAP, you must apply for this program at the state level. Contact information for food programs in each state are available through this interactive map. Low Income Relief’s comprehensive guide to WIC is available here.
I need help with food: pantries & soup kitchen resources
If you do not qualify for SNAP, or your SNAP benefits are not enough to cover you for a full month, food pantries and soup kitchens can be great resources to supplement your family’s nutritional needs.
Most food pantries and soup kitchens are not “means tested”. In other words, you don’t have to show proof of income, or how much you pay for your bills every month. You just tell them that you are in need of assistance, and they help the best they can.
There are several types of food pantries and soup kitchens.
While many social service organizations are run by faith organizations, it does not usually mean that you have to be part of that same faith tradition. Here are a few examples:
- Catholic Charities: You can find soup kitchens near you that are run by Catholic Charities by visiting their website and searching for your zip code. You can also try calling their main switchboard at 703-549-1390.
- Sikh Communal Meals (Langar): If there is a Sikh temple near you, it is likely that they host communal meals called Langar, where all are welcome regardless of their faith or their need for food. The point is not just hunger relief, but community.
- Mazon: This Jewish organization works on a number of hunger relief initiatives, and helps people of all faiths across the United States and Israel. Their resource list includes information on where to turn when I need help with food.
Shelters & Soup Kitchens
Contrary to popular belief, you do not necessarily have to be homeless in order to use services at shelters and soup kitchens. This directory includes information about shelters across the United States. This directory includes information about soup kitchens and food pantries across the United States. As with any directory of this nature, it’s always a good idea to call first in case their information isn’t up to date in the directory.
- Why Hunger offers resources to community-based hunger relief programs across the U.S. You can search their database to find out what kind of hunger relief programs are available near you. Each program is labeled to indicate whether they are a soup kitchen, food pantry, or other type
- Meals on Wheels: Meals on Wheels is for seniors aged 60+ who have a disability or medical condition preventing them from shopping for groceries and preparing meals for themselves.
- United Way: United Way is a large organization that helps connect people with resources, including help with food. All you have to do is call 211 and their volunteers will help connect you with resources in your area.
If you need help with food, especially during the summer months, one of your local public schools might be able to help. For example, New York City public schools offer free summer meals through September 10. Check with your local school district to find out if they have free summer meals or other food programs available.
Mutual Aid & other
These networks are informal collectives of community members who come together and support one another. Mutual Aid networks became more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic and more and more groups have organized across the United States. The great thing about Mutual Aid networks is that they are typically not means-testing. In other words, if you say you need assistance, they take your word for it.
Mutual Aid groups offer a lot of different types of assistance from paying bills, to connecting families with childcare, and food assistance is only one part of their work. Mutual Aid isn’t just about receiving help either. If there’s something you have to offer, such as volunteer time, you can help out as well, and gain community in the process. You can find a Mutual Aid network in your area here.
Free Food Apps
Food waste is a major problem in the United States, and some folks have found ways to reduce waste by connecting people in need with perfectly good food that would otherwise go to waste. Start by downloading the Too Good to Go app.
It can be overwhelming when you need help with food and don’t know where to turn. We hope these resources help!