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Get FREE Summer Meals with These Programs!

Get FREE Summer Meals with These Programs!

Summer hunger is a serious struggle for low income families who rely on free school meals, so let’s talk about how to get free summer meals. There are actually several ways to do this, which is great because it means that you have options.

Why Do We Need Free Summer Meals?

For the 21.5 million low-income children who rely on free or reduced-price meals at school each day, summer is a time of hunger and food scarcity. Without those badly needed breakfasts and lunches, these children do not have access to the quantity or quality of food that they need to be healthy.

Studies show that families experience a $300 increase in grocery costs over the summer when they can’t access free school meals. This is impossible for many families, which leaves all the household members hungry over the summer.

This is a very serious problem and it’s one that many health advocates are trying to solve.

Summer EBT

At the onset of the pandemic, the government instituted a P-EBT program to help provide extra EBT benefits to students who could not access free school meals. The P-EBT program operated slightly different in every state, which made it very difficult to understand and access.

With the 2023 Omnibus bill, the government established a permanent Summer EBT program that is loosely modeled on the previous summer P-EBT program. This new summer program will distribute extra EBT benefits for families whose children normally receive free or reduced-price school meals.

Starting in 2024, the Summer EBT program will provide $40 per month per child, which is $120 per summer per child. This is far more convenient for most families than other free summer meals programs, which may require families to travel to receive assistance.

Starting in 2024, families will receive $40 per child per summer month. The EBT cards will provide relief for many of the same households that were eligible for the Pandemic EBT program and is a critical step toward ending child hunger.

Chicago Food Bank

Summer Food Service Program

The USDA operates a Summer Food Service program but studies have shown that most families who are eligible for this program do not use it.

Until the pandemic began, this program required low income children to travel to a congregate meal site and eat their food at that location in order to receive free summer meals. This was really inconvenient for a lot of families who lacked transportation (or money for transportation) or couldn’t arrive during the designated meal times.

Fortunately, the 2023 Omnibus Bill also made drastic changes to the Summer Food Service Program.

(The Omnibus Bill) also grants summer meal providers the flexibility to use non-congregate program models, such as grab-and-go meals, in some rural areas, making meals more accessible for many children. 

Feeding America

Now, families don’t have to travel to the meal site every day and sit down in order to get free meals through the Summer Food Service Program. Providers can choose to offer grab-and-go meals and other options that make these meals easier for families to use.

Through the new rules, providers can allow children in rural areas to take home up to 10 days of meals at a time. This cuts out a significant amount of travel for families and makes these meals much easier to access.

Anyone age 18 or younger can be served by the Summer Food Service Program. Some locations even offer adults the chance to purchase a meal for a small cost.

You can find a Summer Food Service Program site near you by using the USDA’s online map or by texting Summer Meals to 914-342-7744. You can also call the USDA at 1-866-348-6479 or call 211 to find a location in your area. Please note that this information isn’t available until May each year.

Food Banks

Families who don’t participate in summer food programs often end up spending $300 on extra groceries during each month that the children are not in school. Families who qualify for free or reduced school lunches simply don’t have that kind of flexibility in their budget.

Food banks can offset the expense of groceries. Food banks provide healthy, nutritious food for your family. Some even provide fresh fruits, vegetables and frozen meats! It all depends on what your local food bank offers.

You can find your local food bank using the Feeding America map or by calling 211.

Nicole is the owner and lead researcher for Low Income Relief. She has over 20 years of professional research and writing experience, and she has been solely dedicated to investigating low income topics for the last 10 years. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks! Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more. Her work has also been featured by Google for Publishers and other leading industry publications.

Diane Albert

Saturday 4th of May 2019

I have the ebt card for medicaid (medical expenses) I dont receive food stamps can I still get free stuff ?

Riley Thomson

Saturday 4th of May 2019

Diane, It may just depend on the resource. Which EBT resources are you looking at? -Riley

Kelli K.

Wednesday 27th of June 2018

Do you know of any food pantries for Livingston Parish, Louisiana?


Thursday 28th of June 2018

Hey, Kelli! You can find all the food pantries in Livingston Parish here on the United Way directory. Select "food pantries" from the list and then you can limit the list to Livingston Parish. It'll even show you where they are on the map! :) I hope this helps!