7 Ways to Get Free Groceries

We've all been there—you're at the end of a paycheck, a last-minute bill comes in, and next thing you know, you're unsure if you'll have enough to buy groceries. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Times are getting hard and as prices keep going up, it's important to know where you can turn to get free groceries when your bank account hits zero.

Thanks to several government programs and the continued work of non-profits throughout America, there are plenty of ways to access cheap and even free groceries. These programs have set eligibility requirements, though, so be sure to read the fine print before applying for support.

Food security is a basic human right. If you are unable to feed yourself due to ongoing financial difficulties, continue reading to learn how you can access free groceries during these trying economic times. This article will explain several private and government programs set up to support your needs and provide links to their homepages.

Government Programs Providing Food Support

Depending on your employment status and income bracket, you may be eligible for support at both the federal at state levels. To date, the United States government provides support through the following programs:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP offers food support to low- and no-income individuals and families. If you are eligible, you will receive an EBT card which can be used to purchase groceries at participating stores.
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program – CSFP provides food assistance to low-income seniors aged 60 and older. The program offers a monthly food package that includes a variety of shelf-stable items such as cereal, pasta, peanut butter, and canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children – WIC provides supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low- to moderate-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, as well as to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program – TEFAP provides emergency food assistance at no cost to low-income households, as well as to soup kitchens and food pantries.
  • Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program – SFMNP provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for fresh fruits, vegetables, and honey at participating farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs.

Each of these programs has set requirements that may vary from state to state and county to county. Many are determined by your income, which will be weighed against the median income in your local district.

Private Programs and Food Banks

In addition to government-sponsored programs, there are a number of private organizations that work to end hunger and food insecurity. These groups operate food pantries and soup kitchens, as well as provide other forms of support such as job training and financial counseling.

Some of the most well-known anti-hunger organizations include the following:

  • Feeding America – Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. The organization operates a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, which provide food support to more than 46 million people.
  • Bread for the World – Bread for the World is a collective Christian voice urging our nation's decision-makers to end hunger at home and abroad. The organization works with churches, grassroots organizations, and individuals to advocate for policies and programs that combat hunger and poverty.
  • Meals on Wheels – Meals on Wheels is a national organization that delivers meals to homebound seniors, as well as provides other services such as friendly visits and transportation assistance.
  • The Salvation Army – The Salvation Army works around the year to collect donations and often runs canned food drives to collect shelf-stable products. During the holiday season, most Salvation Army outfits also offer Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners so that no one goes forgotten during the yuletide season.
  • Catholic Charities Emergency Assistance – The Catholic Charities organization offers a wide range of humanitarian support for people in need, including no-questions-asked food support. You do not need a recommendation from the Department of Social Services to access their program and can receive free groceries from their food bank.

In addition to the national organizations listed above, there are likely a number of local programs providing food support in your community. To find programs near you, enter your zip code into the National Cancer Institute's Food Assistance Locator tool.

Other Ways to Get Free Groceries

If you're not eligible for any of the programs listed above, or if you're looking for additional ways to get free groceries, there are a number of other options to consider.

  • Couponing – With a little time and effort, couponing can be an excellent way to save money on groceries. Check out this beginner's guide to couponing to get started.
  • Gardening – If you have a little bit of space, consider starting a garden. Not only will you be able to grow your own food, but you'll also get some exercise and fresh air.
  • Bartering – If you have a skill or service that others are in need of, consider bartering your services for groceries. For example, if you're a talented gardener, offer to trade your services for a portion of someone else's harvest.
  • Food pantries – Food pantries are a great resource for cheap or free groceries. To find a food pantry near you, enter your zip code into the Feeding America food bank locator.
  • Soup kitchens – Soup kitchens are another excellent resource for free meals. To find a soup kitchen near you, try searching online or contacting your local church or community center.

What You Should Take Away

You'll soon find that there are many programs in your area willing to support you through difficult times. If you are worried that you won't be able to afford food, contact any of the organizations, government programs, or local pantries listed above to enquire about accessing their services. No one should go hungry in a country with the greatest supply of food in human history.