Every mother knows or can imagine the special terror of being unable to feed her children. This is the one absolute essential—without quality food and enough of it, children will not thrive, no matter what kind of shelter they have, no matter what clothes they wear, no matter what kind of school they attend. All mothers know instinctively that without proper nutrition, little else matters.
And in these difficult economic times, more people than ever are finding themselves struggling to provide food for their families, a task that used to involve little more than a routine weekly trip to the grocery store. Whether they’ve lost their job, or are earning less, or had to give up the car, many Americans are dealing with a new reality when it comes to putting food on the table.
Of course, there are also many Americans who have been dealing effectively with this problem for some time. The old standby, commonly referred to as Welfare (actually meaning any government assistance program), is a scary concept for many people who have always been able to provide for themselves. It might even seem like a shameful thing to have to ask for help if you’ve always been independent.
But the reality is that government aid exists to help citizens when they need it. In a lot of ways, it’s like insurance—the taxes you’ve paid during your entire working life pay for government assistance, much like the premiums you pay for insurance. The only difference is that every citizen is entitled to government assistance, whether they have paid into the system or not. This is especially true in the case of children, who naturally have not yet had the opportunity to contribute their share, economically speaking.
And there are other options besides government assistance, too. There are private food supply networks, either locally or nationally organized, neighborhood or church-based food shelves, community gardens and so forth.
One good first step is to educate yourself about nutrition for yourself and your children. It is possible to eat healthy, enticing and nutritious meals if you know a little about the basic foods that make our bodies run most efficiently. If you’re on a tight food budget, it’s essential to learn how to cook basic foods (such as grains, beans, meat) if you want to economize—eating fast food or buying packaged meals is no way to save money, and in most cases is definitely not the most nutritious choice. There are a couple of links below that might help you get started learning how to eat more economically, but you can find plenty more yourself by searching online or in the library.
Or why not find a neighbor who seems to know “how to make a meal out of anything” and ask for a few cooking lessons? Another easy way to economize in the kitchen is to focus on cuisine from a country known for healthy, economical food choices, such as India or Mexico. After a few weeks of curry or burritos, you’ll have gained cooking skills that allow you to branch out from these basics and improvise meals that suit your family perfectly.
Look below for some links to Nutrition and Basic Cooking, popular Government programs meant to help families provide essential nutrition for their children, and other private efforts to help meet the food crisis so many are experiencing in these times.
Nutrition and Basic Cooking Information
Government Food Assistance Programs
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service) sponsors or administers several meal/healthy eating programs and initiatives in schools. If your child’s school participates in School Nutrition Programs such as National School Lunch or School Breakfast, it can also elect to participate in additional meal or snack programs, provided it meets program requirements. See below for a description of the major programs offered, and a link to the USDA home page for more information about each. If your child’s school does not offer one of these programs, it might be worthwhile to inquire why not, and possibly get the program started in your area.
- School Breakfast Program: The School Breakfast Program (SBP) provides cash assistance to States to operate nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and residential childcare institutions.
- National School Lunch Program: The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.
- Afterschool Snacks: The National School Lunch Program offers cash reimbursement to help schools serve snacks to children in afterschool activities aimed at promoting the health and well being of children and youth in our communities.
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program: This program provides free fresh fruits and vegetables in selected low-income elementary schools nationwide, as part of an effort to encourage kids to eat more healthy snacks.
- Special Milk Program: The Special Milk Program provides milk to children in schools and childcare institutions who do not participate in other Federal meal service programs. The program reimburses schools for the milk they serve.
- Summer Food Service Program: The Summer Food Service Program is designed to fill the nutrition gap than can occur during summer months when students can’t take advantage of the school breakfast and lunch programs. This program is one that requires sponsorship–such as by a school district, a non-profit organization, a local government body—and a feeding site (which may be a school, but can also be another community resource such as a church). In other words, the USDA will help interested communities to implement this program, but much of the work will be done grassroots style and with lots of volunteers.
- Seamless Summer: This is a special component of the Summer Food Service Program for the case where a school undertakes to feed children during the summer. It’s a way to streamline the operation of a summer meal program into the framework already existing for school year meals.
- Child And Adult Care Food Program: a free or reduced-fee meal program for child care and day care centers, “at-risk” afterschool programs, emergency shelters and the like.
The USDA web page for School Meals is at http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Formerly known as the Food Stamp program, this is also administered through the USDA. You can use SNAP benefits to buy foods for the household to eat, and also seeds and plants that will provide food for the household. Like food stamps, you cannot use these benefits to buy non-food items such as beer, cigarettes, household supplies, pet food, vitamins or medicine. You also cannot use them to buy foods eaten out of the home, such as hot pizza in a convenience store.
Although frequently considered, there are currently no strict categories of food that can or cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits. So cakes, cookies, soda and other “junk” food are still eligible. However, in the interest of good nutrition, you should always limit the amount of junk food you keep in the house.
Benefits are accessed by using an ATM-like card at approved and participating stores. The SNAP website is easy to navigate and has lots of information about applying for benefits, finding stores that accept the benefit, and who to contact if you have problems with your case:
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Still another facet of the USDA, WIC provides federal grants to states to help low-income pregnant women, and low-income women who have children up to age five. WIC provides the following benefits:
- Supplemental nutritious foods
- Nutrition education and counseling at WIC clinics
- Screening and referrals to other health, welfare and social services
A free health screening is provided to applicants, because a mother or child is eligible only if they are found to be “at nutritional risk” (in addition to other program requirements such as income)
Not all eligible applicants can be awarded WIC benefits, since the program is not labeled an “entitlement” (given simply because you are a citizen). It’s a grant program dependent on funding provided by Congress.
This website is the official benefits website of the U.S. government. Available in English and Spanish, you can search for benefits by state, category, agency, or use a checklist-style Benefits Finder to locate benefits that might apply to you.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). Among other things, it can provide cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter for a disabled child.
See the program’s website for detailed information on benefits and eligibility:
Private Food Assistance Programs
2-1-1 Connecting People in Need with Community Services
2-1-1 is a community services help line. If you have an immediate housing problem, or simply don’t know where to turn for help with childcare, expenses, addiction, aging parents…this is the place to call. Services are provided by United Way Worldwide and the Alliance for Information and Referral Systems (AIRS).
Formerly Second Harvest Food Banks, Feeding America now has a much larger, nationally-organized mission.
Feeding America food bank members help provide low – income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, their network members supply food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors
They currently have three national programs: BackPack Program, Community Kitchens and Kids Café. These programs have been replicated at many of their network member food banks and food-rescue organizations.
Angel Food Ministries
Angel Food Ministries is a non-profit, non-denominational organization dedicated to providing food relief and contributing to benevolent outreaches in communities throughout the United States.
By buying food from first rate suppliers at substantial volume discounts, Angel Food Ministries is able to provide families with approximately $65 worth of quality nutritious food for $30. Angel Food Ministries does not use out-of-date food or inferior products.
About the Food: Each month’s menu is different and consists of fresh, frozen and packaged food. Angel Food is purchased from the nation’s top food suppliers. Providing quality, nutritious food at significant discounts on a regular basis is one practical way to give people a “hand up” during difficult times. The cost for a box of Angel Food is $30. There is no purchase limit for boxes of Angle Food. There are no applications or qualifications necessary to purchase.
Modest Needs is a unique organization that seeks to “fill a gap” that suddenly appears in the life of otherwise self-sufficient people. In most everyone’s life, there are periodic crises of money—the lack of it—than can be the start to a snowballing effect that lands them in serious trouble. In many cases, family and friends can step in to stop that process. But what happens when no help is available from the usual sources? This group tries to help when circumstances collide for people who are normally resilient but have encountered a temporary setback. A good example is a necessary car repair—without the car, the applicant cannot continue working.
The Nurturing Network (TNN)
The Nurturing Network is an international charitable organization that responds to the immediate and comprehensive needs of a woman facing the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy. This is a pro-life organization dedicated to seeing a woman through all aspects of this difficult time.
Need Help? www.nurturingnetwork.org/needhelp.html
Catholic Charities USA
Catholic Charities agencies serve people of all faiths. They provide a wide range of services, including services for single moms and children: housing, emergency services, health care, child care, adoption, counseling, financial assistance, food pantries, and other critical services.
Salvation Army USA
The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.
To find the chapter nearest to you, enter your zip code in the Locations heading at the top of the page found here: