9 ways to get free food in 2022

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Food insecurity is on the rise, and surging gas and food prices don't help. Knowing how and where to get free food is crucial when you’re struggling with money.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that food prices rose 9.4% between April 2021 and 2022. It’s the largest one-year increase since the end of April 1981. According to the USDA, 13.8 million households experienced food insecurity in 2020.

To help close the gap, the American Rescue Plan is helping families put food on the table with increased SNAP benefits and food assistance programs.

If you’re struggling to feed your family and need food right now, this post can help. 

We've gathered nine resources to help you find free food right in your own community, whether you:

Food pantries and other free food resources

Churches

Churches and religious institutions often run food pantries, soup kitchens, sponsor food giveaways, or have food outreach programs in the communities they serve. You can do a Google search for “food pantries near me” or “churches near me” to see what is available in your area.

Large organizations like Catholic Charities USA and The Salvation Army run food pantries in local communities nationwide.

Depending on what the church or religious organization offers, you might be able to get a hot meal on site or groceries that you can take home to feed your family.

Food banks

Some food banks operate during times of crisis, while others are available for everyday needs. Food banks are often run by community organizations, religious institutions, and even private citizens. 

Some food banks, like White Center Food Bank in Seattle, Wa., are set up like grocery stores to offer a shopping experience. They provide fresh produce, milk, eggs, and meat, in addition to non-perishable items.

While every food bank has different requirements, you’ll generally need to show:

  • A state-issued ID
  • Current mail to prove residency 
  • Statements of household income
  • Proof of TANF, SSI, WIC, or SNAP benefits

However, some food banks require very little, if any, information. To learn the exact qualifications for food banks in your area, you’ll need to get in touch with your local food bank.

To locate food banks in your community, try a Google search for “food banks near me.”

Feeding America

Feeding America is a nationwide resource for free food for children and adults in every state. The organization boasts 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries. You can get free food in a confidential manner, but you’ll need to register before or when you arrive.

If you are concerned about transportation or exposure to COVID-19, inquire about contact-free options, home delivery, or drive-through locations. 

Food pantries

Just like food banks, food pantries offer free food to people in need. Some are open daily, while others function on specific days of the week. Food pantries generally give out pre-packaged boxes of food, though some may offer a full shopping experience.

Thanks to technology, food pantries like Open Table in Maynard, Mass., invite local residents to order free food online. This innovative approach speeds the food pickup process. Instead of waiting for hours in line, families can drive up and pick up their pre-placed orders. 

There are also community pantries built by good Samaritans like the Little Free Pantry network. These are small, standalone boxes where people place non-perishable food items for anyone in need, no questions asked.

FoodPantries.org

Looking for food pantries in your area? Start with FoodPantries.org, an online search engine to find food pantries, food banks, soup kitchens, and subsidized groceries in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Know a food pantry that isn’t listed? You can fill out a form on the site to have it added to the database.

Government programs

If you meet income eligibility requirements, you can apply for government assistance to get free food. The following programs can help: 

Child Nutrition Programs

There are a variety of federal programs in place to help feed children at home, in school, and after school, including:

To be eligible for these child nutrition programs, you must meet certain income requirements. 

For your child or children to receive reduced-priced meals, your household income must be within 185% of the federal poverty guidelines. For free meals, it must be within 130%.

For example, in a household of three, annual income cannot exceed $42,606 for reduced-price meals or $29,939 for free meals. You can view all incomes by household size for the 2022-2023 school year on the Food and Nutrition Services website.

State and local government-based programs often work in conjunction with federal programs. For example, the USDA-funded Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) is in effect at state-selected schools, typically those that have the most students receiving free or reduced-price meals. 

SNAP

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows low-income households to purchase food in grocery stores, retail stores, and farmers’ markets. SNAP benefit payments are loaded onto an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card for use in stores. While still in developmental stages, some states are part of a pilot to accept SNAP benefits online.

WIC

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides nutritious food and formula to low-income women and their children, from infancy up to age 5. The program also supports pregnant and nursing mothers.

There is a list of WIC-approved foods, chosen for their nutritional value, including vegetables, meat, beans, and whole wheat bread. You can get these free foods at participating retail locations using a WIC check or card (depending on your state).

WIC is offered in all 50 states, 34 Indian Tribal Organizations, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.To determine eligibility, applicants must demonstrate financial need, lack of nutritional resources, and proof of residency. To get free food using WIC benefits, you must apply at your local WIC agency.

Grocery stores

An estimated 30% of food in grocery stores is thrown away, even when it’s still safe to eat. To combat food waste, cities like San Diego, Calif., are making laws to save edible foods and distribute them to local food banks and pantries.

But some grocery stores voluntarily partner with local food banks to help the communities they serve. For example, Hy-Vee Inc. recently donated food and funding to the Channel One Regional Food Bank that serves Southern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin.

To find out whether your local grocery store partners with an area food bank, call the store’s customer service line or ask a customer service employee in the store.

Nonprofit organizations

Nonprofit organizations are another great resource for free food. The following programs help people in need: 

No Kid Hungry

No Kid Hungry, a campaign run by the nonprofit Share Our Strength, works to provide food for children in multiple ways. They primarily partner with schools, providing grants to ensure children receive meals before and after school, and during the summer months. 

In addition, No Kid Hungry supports food banks and groups that offer free food to children. They are also vocal advocates for food security.  

Tackle Hunger

The Tackle Hunger Challenge rallies communities to support school-based food pantries, athletic departments, and local food charities that help low-income families. Through Souper Bowl of Caring events, Tackle Hunger collects food donations and funds from generous citizens. In turn, they partner with community food banks and other food rescue groups to offer free food to those in need. 

Universities

Some colleges are working to address student nutrition needs by offering on-campus pantries. At Penn State University, students run The Lion’s Pantry. Students just need to show their Penn State ID. They even operate smaller Cub Pantries across campus.

Nonprofits like Swipe Out Hunger — in place at over 400 colleges in 50 states — work to address hunger issues for college students. 

Search the Swipe Out Hunger directory.

Food app rewards and freebies

Convenience stores

Another good place to get free food? Convenience stores. You can earn food perks by signing up for free food rewards programs in store or through an app. Check with your favorite local convenience store for free food rewards.

Here are a few convenience stores that offer food rewards:

7-11 free drink or snack when register for 7-11Rewards

When you sign up for 7REWARDS, you get a free drink or snack loaded on your account. When you present the app in-store or connect it with 7NOW Delivery, you can earn points on food, beverages, snacks, and convenience items.   

Every 1,000 points equals $1. Earn five times the points when you use 7-Eleven Wallet, a way for you to pay through the 7-Eleven app. Just link a credit or debit card to the app or add cash at the register. As long as you use the 7-Eleven app, redeem points, or make an in-store purchase once every 90 days, your points won't expire.

Sheetz free beverage or snack with 250 rewards points

Sign up for a free Sheetz Rewardz account, and earn five points for every dollar you spend in-store. You can get a fountain drink, self-serve Sheetz Bros. coffee, or a Shweetz donut or cookie when you hit 250 points.

The more points you earn, the higher your rewards level. Higher levels unlock more free food. Unused points expire one year from the month you earned them.

Free drinks and meals with ROFO Rewards

The Royal Farms Rewards program gives you a free two-piece chicken meal on your birthday. Plus, you can earn two points for every dollar you spend in-store and one point per gallon when you buy gas. You can exchange the points for food, snacks, and beverages.

There are four point tiers: 50, 125, 250, and 400. At each tier, you can cash out points to get free food and beverages. You can track your rewards in the ROFO app. When you earn points in any given month, you have one year to use them.

Restaurants

Who doesn’t love free food? You’d be surprised how many restaurants and fast food establishments offer free food when you sign up for their rewards or loyalty programs.

Here are a few examples:

Chili’s, free chips & salsa with rewards program

As a My Chili’s Rewards member, you’ll get free chips and salsa or a non-alcoholic beverage every time you dine in and spend at least $5. You’ll also score a free birthday dessert and other free food items just for being an active member.

Jimmy Johns, free sandwich after first order with Freaky Fast Rewards

Join Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards, and you’ll get a free 8-inch sandwich after you place an order as a member online or through the app. You can also earn free food rewards just for buying menu items you enjoy.

(Expired) Penn Station East Coast Subs, order sub online, get a free small sub with code PSBOGO

Sign up for Penn Station East Coast Subs emails and be the first to know about buy one get one (BOGO) deals and other special food offers.

Panera Bread, free pastry for signing up for MyPanera Rewards (and free drinks through July 4th)

As a new MyPanera rewards member, you’ll get a free pastry or bagel (up to $4.59 in value) with any online or in-cafe purchase. The reward expires within 60 days of being credited to your MyPanera account. You’ll also get a surprise treat for your birthday and earn points toward free food, including surprise offers like free bagels for a month.

McDonald’s, free Big Mac when download app and free offers

When you download the MyMcDonald’s Rewards app and join, you’ll earn a free large fry (food item subject to change). After your first purchase, you can earn more free food rewards every time you eat at McDonalds. Link your payment card, use it to make a purchase, and earn 1500 bonus points to get a free cheeseburger.

Checkers/Rally’s, free Mother Cruncher or Big Buford when sign up for rewards

Checkers and Rally’s will give you 250 rewards points when you sign up and make your first purchase. You can earn more points with each purchase. When you reach 400 points, you get a $5 reward to purchase free food.

Baskin-Robbins, get a free scoop of ice cream when you download app and sign up for mobile deals

Get a free regular-sized scoop of your favorite Baskin-Robbins ice cream when you download the app and sign up for text message deals.

Quiznos, get $5 off first app order and get a free 8” sub when you invite friends and they sign up for app

Download the Quiznos loyalty app and get $5 off on your first order in the app. Enjoy a BOGO deal on your birthday on 8-inch subs. And, if you refer a friend, you’ll get a free 8-inch sub when they sign up and use the app. Earn points for more free food in the app.

Krispy Kreme, get a free doughnut when sign up for rewards program

Get a free doughnut when you sign up for Krispy Kreme Rewards. Every doughnut and coffee purchase helps you earn free treats. Also, receive special perks only available to members. You must redeem any reward within 90 days.

Free food FAQs

How can I get food with no money?

Check with local food banks, food pantries, churches, and nonprofits to quickly access free food when you don’t have any money. Many organizations require you to provide a state-issued ID at minimum. If you need a longer-term solution, you can apply for government programs like SNAP to get benefits to buy groceries.

How can I get free food on the internet?

Some food banks and pantries allow you to place an order for free food online. Depending on the organization, you can either pick up your food  in person or have it delivered to your home.

You can also sign up for a rewards program online from your favorite restaurant or delivery app. You can look online for food coupons from sites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin and apply them when placing an order.

How do you qualify for a food bank?

Each food bank will have specific requirements, and some may require proof of need. Most have a registration process. Be prepared to show a state-issued ID to establish proof of residency. To learn the exact process, get in touch with your local food bank.

Need other help?

Check out these resources for low-income individuals and families:

Help for single moms: 16+ resources$500 monthly single mom grant
Free laptopsScholarships for single moms
Free carFree Christmas gifts
Free smartphoneBest jobs moms can do from home
Free wifiFree and low-cost prescriptions
Free formulaFree clothes
Free toysGovernment assistance for single moms
Free gasFree daycare
Free preschoolFree prescription glasses
10+ charities that help single mothersTutoring and homework help
Free diapersDumpster diving
Low-income home loansFree school supplies
Free housingHome buyer grants
How can I get food with no money?

Check with local food banks, food pantries, churches, and nonprofits to quickly access free food when you don’t have any money.

How can I get free food on the internet?

Some food banks and pantries allow you to place an order for free food online. Depending on the organization, you can either pick up your food  in person or have it delivered to your home.

How do you qualify for a food bank?

Each food bank will have specific requirements, and some may require proof of need. Most have a registration process. Be prepared to show a state-issued ID to establish proof of residency. To learn the exact process, get in touch with your local food bank.

Robyn Evans is an award-winning writer, inspirational author, and occasional songstress (especially in the shower). Born and raised in Baltimore, she focused on helping women make healthy choices for body, mind and soul. She’s a grateful bonus mom to a photographer son and activist daughter and works with young writers through a nonprofit called the Youth Writers Challenge. Robyn writes for corporate clients, is a former feature writer for The Carroll County Times, has written for The Baltimore Sun and is the author of three books.
Robyn's website | Robyn's LinkedIn profile

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