Low Income Food Assistance Programs
Emergency food assistance exists for families who find themselves in a crisis and are temporarily unable to feed themselves.
If you are experiencing financial difficulties, and you need help to get you through a rough patch, consider the following resources.
Food Bank/Food Pantry
Typically speaking, a food bank is a non-profit organization that distributes food to community service agencies that help low-income households, the working poor, homeless people, etc.
The food bank’s collective donations are known as “food pantries” or “soup kitchens” at the community service agency level.
A food pantry is operated by either a secular social service agency or faith-based organization -- the typical setting being a community church.
Generally, food pantries have specific times in which they operate, and appointments are sometimes required to receive food assistance.
There is usually a qualification process and a certain amount of times a person or household can receive free food.
If you need the services of a food pantry, it is best to call beforehand and get all of the information. It may be possible to complete the entire intake process over the phone.
Community churches usually operate soup kitchens. At soup kitchens, churches distribute hot meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some soup kitchens only prepare one or two meals, while others serve all three (rare).
The important thing to remember about a soup kitchen is everyone who shows up at the specified times will receive a hot meal -- until they run out of food, so promptness is a necessity.
Soup Kitchens normally operate in tandem with corporate sponsors in addition to food bank donations
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the new name (as of 2008) for the Food Stamp Program. SNAP is a federal assistance program designed for people from low-income households to people who have no income at all.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the program under its Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), and local welfare agencies distribute the program to its residents.
Through the SNAP program, recipients are issued food stamp benefits each month through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).
An EBT card is a plastic debit card similar to a regular bank debit card. Recipients simply swipe their card and go. Community social service agencies can assist people who need help with food stamp applications.
Women, Infants and Children
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is another federal assistance program operated by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).
WIC is designed for pregnant and lactating mothers and children under five years of age. The program provides education, breast pumps and food staples (baby formula, cereal, dairy products, etc.) to the population it serves.
The goal of the WIC program is to keep low-income women, infants and children healthy because there is a definite risk associated with access to good nutrition among the poor.
WIC checks are distributed on a monthly basis, and the free food items provided are listed on each check. In some states, there is a migration toward WIC debit cards (EBT Cards) instead of cumbersome WIC checks.
Food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens are largely dependent upon donations and volunteers. If you have to use their services, please remember them when you have reached the point of financial stability.
As with any federal assistance program, there are a multitude of rules and regulations involved in applying for food stamps as well as keeping the benefits - the same goes for any federal assistance program.
If you need further assistance, you should contact your local crisis hotline or social service agency. In addition, you can read about Children’s Food Assistance Programs that may be available in your area.