How to Supplement Your Food Stamps Allowance with Food Banks

Many low-income residents struggle to support their families with the SNAP benefits they currently receive each month and must rely on other means of supplying necessary food products.

Visiting a food bank may be a viable option for these residents, but they must understand how to properly supplement their stamps to ensure they obtain enough food supplies. A food pantry can provide residents with various canned, boxed and some perishable food items at no additional cost. However, residents must know how to find local food banks, how they operate and how to take advantage of the invaluable resource.

The following sections detail how residents can utilize their food stamps effectively without sacrificing essential items they and their families may need to survive and stay healthy. Because the consumption of healthy food is vital to the well-being of American families, residents, especially those requiring government assistance, must learn how to attain the food they need. You are encouraged to use this information if your benefits do not cover all your grocery expenses.

What are food banks?

Food banks are places, such as warehouses, that store food products in bulk that have been donated by churches, individuals and others. Often, a food bank is run by non-profit or charitable organizations in an attempt to reduce hunger in low-income populations. However, some banks merely distribute food to local food pantries that can access specific communities. Residents, then, visit the pantries as needed to obtain their share of supplies. In some cases, residents may be permitted to collect food supplies at banks, but this is uncommon. All operations related to food collection and distribution are conducted by volunteers, and all supplies are donated. Depending on where you live, you may have large, medium or small banks serving your area. Consequently, the amount of food products you may be allowed to get may differ based on your location.

Related Article: Other Food Assistance Programs

At most food pantries, you can expect to be guided by a volunteer through the aisles. The following process applies to many pantries in the U.S.:

  1. Enter the pantry. A volunteer worker should direct you to a shopping cart or bag, provide you with any information regarding their policies and answer questions you may have.
  2. Present your identification verifying that you participate in SNAP. SNAP assistance recipients are automatically given limited access to pantries, but other residents may need to bring proof of income to be eligible for services at pantries.
  3. Collect your food items. Some food items may not be available to you, depending on the frequency of your visits and the amount of food stamps you already receive. However, volunteers will be able to guide you to the appropriate foods.
  4. Redeem your food items. Volunteers will be prepared to check you out after you have collected all your items. In doing so, they will keep track of the products you receive.

Note: Food pantries impose limits on residents that dictate how often they may visit. This is meant to ensure enough food is available to all needy residents. Typically, eligible residents may visit once per month, but only one member of the residents’ family may visit. Though, annual limits are also in place at some locations. These can range from a total of six to ten visits each year. You should pay attention to how often you visit your local food bank to determine how many more times you may visit.

How to Find Local Food Banks

Food banks are available in most cities throughout the country. Online search databases can help you locate the closest food pantry that serves your area, but your friends and family can also be valuable resources when searching for locations. Other low-income families may be able to provide you with a list of potential food banks with great reputations and a suitable variety of products. Additionally, places of worship and other organizations can lead you to an appropriate pantry near you.

How Food Banks Can Help You

If you use SNAP benefits and still struggle to feed yourself and your family, then visiting local pantries may be a solution for you. Local food banks can provide you with extra food to help you stretch your food budget even farther than your benefits enable you to do. Since banks enforce limits on the number of times you may visit, an emergency food pantry may offer you and your family additional visits in times of extreme need. These pantries are federally-funded and provide commodity foods to residents to supplement their benefits. However, some pantries may only be open to families in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). At food pantries, you can expect to find some of the healthy food items listed below:

  • Applesauce
  • Canned foods (soup, beans, chicken, fish, meat, fruits and vegetables)
  • Crackers
  • Granola bars and cereal
  • Spices and herbs
  • Boxed meals like soup or pasta kits
  • Peanut butter
  • Rice
  • Bread

You should seek out foods low in sugar and sodium and foods high in protein and fiber. You should also consider the shelf-life of some products. While most food bank locations avoid stocking perishable items, you may still be able to obtain some perishable goods. These can be great to have, but you must remember that they must be consumed faster than other products.

How to Use Your Food Stamps Effectively

Due to the limited amount of food stamps allocated to residents in the U.S. monthly, residents may run out of stamps within the first few weeks of every month. To help prevent them from losing SNAP assistance so soon, residents can learn how to preserve their stamps for as long as possible each month. In addition to utilizing food banks, residents should know how to manage their stamps effectively. The following tips can help you spend your benefits more effectively:

  • Budget your weekly food expenses and only spend your stamps when you cannot afford all necessary groceries.
  • Remember that most food stamps replenish every month while you are enrolled in SNAP–not weekly.
  • Consider downloading the Fresh EBT app or other applications to help you conveniently track your current benefit balance as you shop.

While these tips cannot ensure you have enough benefits to last a full month, they can allow to control your monthly spending. Of course, finding alternative options for obtaining food for you and your family should never be overlooked, but you can also discover ways to increase the number of meals you can get with your current benefits.

Related Article: Food Distribution on Reservations

It might also interest you: