These 5 Food Assistance Programs Could Supplement Your SNAP Benefits in December

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  • Pregnant women and parents of young children may qualify for the WIC program.
  • Seniors may be able to get monthly food boxes containing nutritious foods.
  • Children from low-income families may be able to receive free or reduced-cost school meals.

SNAP is not the only food benefit program out there.

The rapidly increasing cost of living has put pressure on many Americans' bank balances. The cost of food, housing, gas, and other essentials have all shot up and many people's wages haven't kept pace. The USDA estimates that more than 1 in 10 households experienced food insecurity last year, with over 33 million Americans living in food insecure homes.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest food assistance program in the United States and has been a lifeline for many households in recent years. It helped over 40 million families in 2021. But that money only goes so far, and some households don't qualify for SNAP benefits at all. If you're struggling to feed your family this December, know that SNAP is not the only program out there: You may qualify for additional assistance. There are also various local initiatives to help people put a Christmas meal on the table.

1. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

Usually referred to as WIC, the Woman, Infants and Children program provides help for low-income women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and children under five years of age. Not only does it provide food assistance, the program also offers nutritional and health services.

The program is operated by individual states and provides nutritious food such as milk, cheese, cereal, eggs, whole wheat bread, and canned fish. The USDA estimates that it served more than 40% of all infants in the United States last year.

2. Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)

The CSFP puts together monthly food boxes for seniors. The idea is to give seniors additional nutritious foods such as fruit juice, canned beans, meat, and vegetables, cheese, and cereal to supplement their diets. Individual states manage their own programs, but in most cases seniors over the age of 60 with an income of less than 130% of the federal poverty line will qualify. If you already receive SNAP benefits, you may also qualify for CSFP -- there's nothing to stop you from receiving both.

3. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

The school lunch program was launched in 1946 and aims to provide children from low-income households with free or reduced-price school meals. Some schools also participate in a Free School Breakfast program. These initiatives mean children from low-income families are eligible to receive reduced-price or free meals at school.

There are a few ways children can qualify. Children in households already receiving SNAP benefits are automatically eligible, as are those living in foster care. Otherwise, it depends on family size and income levels.

During the summer holidays there's a related group of programs called Summer Meals for Kids. Run by a mix of community groups, schools, and other local organizations, the idea is to ensure kids can access free lunches even during the vacations. To find out what programs operate near you, No Kid Hungry runs a free texting service -- text "FOOD" or "COMIDA" to 304-304 and enter your ZIP code.

4. Food pantries and soup kitchens

There's a network of food pantries and meal programs (more commonly known as soup kitchens) in operation throughout the U.S. They are served by food banks, which aren't open to the public. They are more like warehouses that distribute food to various organizations.

Food pantries operate in different ways, so it's worth checking when your local pantries are open and what requirements they have. You may have to wait in line, so it's a good idea to arrive early. Soup kitchens serve hot food for free or at a heavy discount to those in need. They often operate from vans or pop-up buildings and, like food pantries, are mostly run by volunteers.

Search online to find out about food pantries or meal programs in your area. United Way (2-1-1) maintains a database of food and other assistance that you may qualify for. You can also call the USDA National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479.

5. Christmas food help

If you aren't sure how to put food on the table this Christmas, there may be extra help at hand. There isn't a specific national program, though Feeding America, which runs a number of food banks and food pantries, is working to prevent hunger during the holiday season.

Contact your local food pantries, soup kitchens, charities, and religious or community groups to find out if they have a Christmas program available. See what your local Salvation Army is doing, or search for any adopt-a-family schemes running near you. In addition to food, you may find organizations that collect toys for those in need. If you're not sure where to start, call 2-1-1 to ask about holiday support in your area.

Bottom line

The rising cost of living has caused many Americans to dip into their savings accounts or take on debt to be able to pay for food. Unfortunately, those who were already finding it hard to cover their bills and put money aside have been hardest hit by spiraling prices. If you're having trouble putting food on the table, find out what assistance you might qualify for. The more you can save on groceries, the more you'll have available to cover other essential expenses.

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