Better World

Finding Food: Where You Can Get Free Meals on Thanksgiving and Beyond

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Because celebrating shouldn’t be income-based

Since March of last year, food insecurity for families with kids has risen by nearly two-thirds.

The monthly checks from the expanded Child Tax Credit have helped a lot, with many parents reporting the money has finally enabled them to buy nutritious food for their kids. It’s lifted millions of children out of poverty, but too many people still struggle to get food on the table.

When you’re struggling financially, as so many Americans are right now, Thanksgiving dinner—not to mention regular meals for your family—can be stressful. Rest assured that there are ways to get connected to free meals, including Thanksgiving and other holiday meals.

Most communities have some form of food assistance or holiday meals available to families, it’s simply a matter of knowing where to search and which organizations to contact. So below is a detailed rundown of many starting points to connect you to free food opportunities in your area.

Call for help

211 is one of the most useful nationwide resources to connect people to food assistance, crisis management, or any other form of help. Simply dial 211 or put in your zip code on the website to find other pathways to critical information online, via text, via local phone numbers, and more. 

The USDA National Hunger Hotline is another resource that connects individuals and families to emergency food services and food assistance programs. They can be reached at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (for Spanish).

Local meal kits and programs

Many school districts around the country extend their free meal programs for the holidays, providing extra to-go meals or meal kits for Thanksgiving or Christmas. The free holiday meal programs may be available to other community members besides students.

Some local programs, such as the Michigan-based Weekend Survival Kit, even offer the service of to-go meal and snack kits for eligible students to bring home once a week to ensure that they have enough to eat when they’re not at school. Feeding America’s Backpack Program provides groceries for weekends and school breaks through schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and community centers nationwide. During summer vacations and Covid-19 school closures, the USDA’s Find Meals for Kids map is a good tool for finding free meal sites via school districts.

To find other local options for free food, search WhyHunger’s Find Food map and the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks, do an online search for “food pantry” or “food bank” in your area, or contact local houses of worship or community centers to see if they have emergency food supplies or meals available to the public. The Homeless Shelter Directory has a state-by-state list of soup kitchens and food banks, too, so you can find one near you. Many organizations also provide Thanksgiving meals or food boxes, such as the Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels, or St. Vincent de Paul Society. 


For more online help, Facebook has a Community Help tool where folks can request or offer help locally, so that could be a good place to ask for suggestions or direct help from people in your area. You can adjust the filter to search within 5 miles or up to 50 miles away from your town/city.

Shop for free

In addition, for those looking for relief while shopping for Thanksgiving meal ingredients, Walmart has teamed up with the Ibotta shopping app and a handful of food brands to offer 100 percent cash back on certain holiday staples such as turkey, stuffing, instant potatoes, and cranberry sauce. And remember, if you’ve already purchased your holiday meal or know you won’t need help securing it, you can still take advantage of this offer and donate the food to another family in need!

Other stores often offer free turkey, ham, or other Thanksgiving essentials in late October through November. For example, ShopRite, which has supermarkets in six states, is offering a free turkey or ham in 2021 through November 25th. Grocers have different promotions each year, so check with your local stores to see what’s available

It’s heartening to know that even in the most dire times, there are people and organizations looking out for families who are struggling. Everyone deserves a happy holiday season. By making use of some of these available resources, families can see past financial hardships and focus on enjoying traditions and quality time together.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.