I’ve been consciously avoiding the news all summer, as I was on news overload at the beginning of June. But this week I read my local online newspaper for the first time in weeks, and I saw an article that made me sad. With the unemployment rate in our county hovering around 12% (and around 14% in the next county up), unemployment benefits are starting to run out. People who lost their jobs two years ago when the economy went bad are now approaching the end of their unemployment benefits.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of government intervention, but my husband has been unemployed a few times over the course of our marriage, and it can be hard to find a job in good times. In bad times, it’s next to impossible. Families with children are especially worried, as the last thing you want to do is let your children starve.

Fortunately there are programs out there to help feed children in tough economic times. Here are a few I’ve come across.

School/Summer Lunch Programs

Most people are familiar with the school free/reduced lunch program. Depending on your income, your school aged children could be eligible for free or cheap lunches at school. During some of our tough times, my daughter was eligible for reduced lunches, and we were able to get her a good lunch for forty cents. It’s hard to beat that, even if you’re coupon shopping.

Even though most people know about school lunch programs, many people aren’t aware that some of these programs continue during the summer. Many communities offer free lunches for any child under the age of 18 during the summer. These free lunches generally take place at schools or parks. The great thing about free summer lunches is that there isn’t an income restriction. Sometimes people who are just over the income limits for programs like food stamps are those that are hurting the most, but can’t get help.


WIC, which stands for Women, Infants, and Children, is a nutrition program for pregnant and nursing women and their children up to age 5. Eligibility is based on income, but like the school lunch program, the restrictions aren’t as stringent as for food stamps.

If you meet the eligibility requirements, you will receive vouchers for specific food products that you can redeem at any grocery store. Food includes staples like milk, juice, peanut butter, cheese, dried beans, and cereal. During the summer, WIC also offers the WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, where you can redeem vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables at your local farmer’s market!

Gleaning Programs

Gleaning programs collect edible food that would otherwise go to waste and distribute it to the hungry. Often those who benefit from the program are required to volunteer a certain amount of hours to participate.

Food comes from local farmers, grocery stores, and other places of the local community. Program participants in our area can volunteer to pick fruit and vegetables in the field, help distribute food, sort food, or work in the Gleaning Network Thrift Store. Not all communities have gleaning programs, but hopefully it’s an idea that will catch on across the nation!

Stress levels can run high when money is tight, and feeding children is a high priority. If you are having trouble making ends meet, make sure to check into some of these programs to make sure your children can get the food that they need.

Photo by VirtualErn.