If things are financially tight for you right now, these programs and places are here to help.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
March 31, 2020
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As a result of widespread business closures and downsizing caused by the coronavirus (or COVID-19) crisis, many Americans are finding themselves out of a job or laid off. It's overwhelming to navigate the day-to-day stressors of the pandemic, and especially so for someone newly unemployed. However, wondering where your next meal will come from or whether you can afford to feed your family does not need to be one of those stressors. There are a number of valuable nutrition assistance programs that will help you or someone you care about get food on the table during this difficult time. Here's a look at the different programs and what they're all about.

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National Programs

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is a federally funded program meant to address food insecurity in the U.S. Depending on your income and household size, those on SNAP receive a monthly stipend to an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that looks and functions just like a debit card. There are some restrictions on exactly what products are covered but most grocers accept SNAP benefits. SNAP has slight differences depending on the state you're in, so be sure to check out how to apply to learn more.

If you are a pregnant woman or mother of a child age 5 or younger, you may be eligible for the Women, Infants & Children program (WIC). This supplemental nutrition program provides families with funds for specific nutritious foods to meet the needs of mothers and children during crucial stages of development, such as infant formula. There are 10,000 WIC clinic sites all over the U.S. Check out the USDA guidelines for how to apply and to find a clinic in your area.

There are also some nutrition assistance programs specifically for older adults as well. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) provides packages of mostly shelf-stable foods to people over the age of 60. These packages are focused on nutrients typically lacking in the diets of older adults (like fiber and protein) and help supplement their nutritional needs. Additionally, there is a program called Meals on Wheels where prepared meals are delivered to the homes of eligible older adults. These programs are continuing with heightened attention to food safety and sanitation during the stay-at-home orders.

Though schools are out, the USDA has created a safety net for school-aged children and families who rely on meals from school. Through partnering with several organizations and schools across the country, the USDA has reinstated their Meals to You program that provides millions of meals to American children and their families each week.

Community Programs

In addition to federal programs, there are food banks and food pantries in every U.S. state. Food banks receive foods in bulk from distributors and either provide the foods directly to community members in need or supply to local food pantries, all completely free of charge. There are over 200 Feeding America food banks across the country that supply more than 4.3 billion meals each year. Feeding America has resources to find food banks and food pantries in your community.

Many communities also have their own local food aid and hunger relief organizations. Reach out to your local health department for more details on how to become connected to resources in your area. Additionally, organizations like the Red Cross, as well as many faith-based organizations, have resources set aside for people in need.

Social Supports

Aside from structured programs, there are several ways to set up support within your social circle. One resource is the company Meal Train. This site allows you to coordinate with friends and family to set up a meal calendar for those in need. Anyone can sign up for a meal drop-off through a link to the calendar, so those in need don't have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Simply reaching out to someone you trust if you are in need (or to someone you suspect to be in need during this turbulent time) can amplify the support around you.

Bottom Line

Everyone is dealing with the struggles that come with a pandemic in different ways unique to their situation. For many, unemployment is a new, potentially unforeseen concern. Fortunately, there are resources that are meant to help those in need fill their plates and stay nourished during these difficult times.