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Holiday Food Help Programs

For many families, the winter season is a time of indulgence and good cheer. They come together to enjoy traditional holidays, relive their traditions and make new memories, often over a large, comforting feast. For low-income families that struggle even to put food on the table, that feast may seem like an impossible dream. The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, but for many Americans, they end up being a financial burden, often with the added psychological burden of feeling guilt over their inability to provide the expected stereotype of a traditional holiday experience laden with gifts and goodies.

If you're in this situation, don't be ashamed to ask for help! In addition to gift-giving initiatives for underprivileged children, there are also many assistance programs that provide low-income families with meals during the holidays. You can have that happy holiday if you know the right resources. These tips should get you started, and links to the websites mentioned here are provided at the end of the article!

Contact Your Local Church
Many local churches help their communities through outreach services, including assistance programs, food drives, and soup kitchens. These vital programs provide free hot meals to low-income families, elderly persons, and children during the festive period. Even if you're not a member of your local church, you can often get help for Christmas if you're in need. You may not want to eat your holiday dinner in a soup kitchen, but using their services on other days can help you save enough to make that one occasion special.

To find out if any of the churches in your local area offer such assistance, contact them directly. It's best to do this well ahead of the holidays. These types of programs are usually very popular, and meals are usually given out on a first come - first served basis.

Look Out for Local Business Promotions
Many local businesses provide food baskets to struggling families during the holiday season, either given away at random or put up for grabs in competitions. Either way, you have the chance to get your hands on one, so monitor your local news to see if any local businesses are offering such opportunities. Some businesses even do turkey giveaways, giving deserving families a magnificent dinner for Christmas Day.

Food Banks and Pantries
Food banks and pantries provide much-needed support to low-income families. These important resources are at their busiest over Christmas, so you'll need to sign up in advance if you want the chance to benefit. While you likely won't walk away with all the ingredients for a full turkey dinner, you can often get a hot meal (turkey on Christmas day, most likely), and some staple items such as canned goods.

Feeding America is just one example of a food bank charity that secures and distributes meals every year to disadvantaged families throughout the United States. You can find your local food bank by entering your state on the Feeding America website. There's a link at the end of this article!

Food pantries also provide help at times when people most need it, but unlike food banks, they operate on a smaller scale. Food banks are self-governing, and they are normally sponsored by local agencies and churches. Many of them are not well publicized, and you could have options in your neighborhood without ever knowing it. Search the internet or inquire locally to find options in your area!

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) is the biggest nutrition program administered by the US Government's Food and Nutrition Service, helping over 44 million Americans in 2016 alone. The program provides help to eligible, low-income families, apportioning funds to each recipient based on their income, expenses, and household size. Beneficiaries today receive allowance through a specialized debit card system called the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), which they can use to purchase food at their local grocery store. This program can be very useful, especially if your budget won't cover expenses over the holidays.

Your local SNAP office will be able to give you more information about the program, including eligibility requirements. Alternatively, if you live in one of the states that accept online applications, you can file online on the relevant state website. The Food and Nutrition Service website has a list of local SNAP offices.

Catholic Charities
Catholic Charities aims to reduce poverty, support families, and empower communities. They have been helping individuals and families in need for more than 100 years. At Christmas, Catholic Charities' biggest and most beneficial initiative is their feeding program. Underprivileged families, shut-ins, and senior citizens can all get a hot meal at one of their many soup kitchens and food pantries.

Catholic Charities holds an annual Christmas Program that allows generous individuals, families, businesses, and other organizations to "sponsor" the less fortunate and share some of their blessings. Contributing sponsors can "adopt" a family for Christmas and give gift cards, physical gifts (e.g., toys and clothing) and monetary support. Catholic Charities pools together the monetary contributions and uses them to purchase food and gift items for the program beneficiaries.

The Salvation Army
Founded in London well over 150 years ago, the Salvation Army now has a worldwide membership of more than 1.5 million people dedicated to helping the poor, destitute, and hungry. Like the other organizations in this article, the Salvation Army offers a selection of Christmas programs to help disadvantaged individuals and families. These programs include sit-down Christmas dinners, at-home meal deliveries, food pantry volunteering and stocking, and financial assistance for grocery and food expenses. The Salvation Army also helps underprivileged individuals and families pay their utility bills over the holidays, removing some of the added financial burdens of this period and freeing up some vital cash.

All these programs enable even the poorest families to experience the spirit of Christmas with a proper dinner. Now that's generosity!

Final Word
All of the organizations, charities, and initiatives we have mentioned in this article are committed to helping low-income individuals and families who struggle to put food on the table over the holidays. However, many of the programs we have outlined here are extremely popular, so it's always advisable to seek help ahead of time.

This Christmas, you don't have to go hungry and suffer the cold. Thanks to the generosity and giving spirit of your fellow humans, you can experience the comfort and joy of the holiday spirit. We hope their generosity will help you to survive and thrive in the New Year ahead.

Resource Links:

Feeding America
SNAP Local Office Directory
Catholic Charities
Salvation Army