Where to Find Thanksgiving Help for Low Income Families

If you are among the millions of Americans who are under-resourced but still want to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast with people you care about, you’re in good company. Food insecurity affects people in every community in the country, but hits hardest among families with children.

The good news is that there’s Thanksgiving help available for low income families, though you may have to hunt or get creative to find yours. Many resources start to get the word out early about their Thanksgiving programs, so the sooner you start looking the better.

Organizations and charities that assist families year-round generally provide additional assistance during the holidays, so follow your city government and local food resources on social media, do a little research, and sign up for emails with organizations that look promising. You can also keep an eye on local TV news or newspaper websites to learn about programs in your area.

Keep reading for more information, specific resources, and ideas to help you find Thanksgiving help for low income families.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army recognizes America’s hunger problem. In addition to its holiday assistance programs, this organization services communities with food pantries all year. By clicking the link on their website, you can find a food pantry near you.

This organization distributes Thanksgiving food baskets through its ongoing food pantry program. You can inquire at your local pantry about individual offerings and how they are distributed.

The Salvation Army also provides sit-down meals for low-income families. The meals include hot food and the ability to socialize with others. In addition, mobile meals deliver food to those who are unable to get to food distribution centers.

For fresh, nutritious food, many Salvation Army locations have a community garden. Those seeking fresh food may assist in caring for and harvesting their own fruits and vegetables.

From holiday gifts for kids to after-school programs, the Salvation Army offers a variety of services to support low income families. In addition, you may find job training, help with domestic abuse, and more.

Local Food Banks

Food banks are not only a good place to get free groceries for low-income families, but they also help families put special holiday meals on the table. Feeding America distributes 4.3 billion meals every year throughout the United States. To find a food bank in your area, enter your zip code or state on the site.

Another resource for finding food giveaways in your area is FoodPantries.org. Click on the state where you live, and it will take you to a spot where you can enter your address or click on a city in your area. The listing will pull up the name, address, phone number, and food pantry hours.

It’s a good idea to call or message food pantries ahead of time to confirm their hours. You can also ask whether they will be providing any foods specific to holiday meals.

Walmart and Ibotta App

In 2020, Walmart and Ibotta launched a program that offered a 100% refund on eligible Thanksgiving menu products bought at Walmart through the Ibotta app. Those products included a turkey, gravy, stuffing, and so on, adding up to a free Thanksgiving dinner for a family of five.

The program was among the most successful food giveaways of 2020, and though specifics for a 2021 giveaway have not been announced, it’s a good bet we’ll see an Ibotta Thanksgiving giveaway again. This is definitely one to keep an eye on!

To receive reimbursement on this or any cash back Ibotta promotion, you will need to install the Ibotta app and add eligible food items to your Ibotta account before shopping.

You can also check the Ibotta app for discounts on other items at Walmart as well as other locations like ShopRite, and Target.

Churches and Charities

Many charities and churches provide free Thanksgiving meals for low-income families. Generally, the family picks up their meals or food boxes at the church or charity and prepares the meal at home, though there are exceptions.

Organizations may also offer other assistance. This includes items such as gift certificates for purchasing groceries, free turkeys, or special Thanksgiving baskets.

To find churches in your area that may be offering food giveaways or Thanksgiving dinner, do an online search for “food baskets for needy families near me.” If you don’t find one at first, keep checking as the holiday approaches.

United Way

United Way organizations throughout the United States have local Thanksgiving projects. You can call 2-1-1 or go to their website for confidential assistance with health and human services. This includes bill payment and finding food.

You may also try searching “United Way Thanksgiving food” to locate local holiday projects in your area. For instance, the United Way in Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley has supported more than 20,000 families with their Thanksgiving Project.

In addition to assisting with food needs, the United Way provides a wide range of services. Born Learning is an early learning initiative that assists parents with tips to help children prepare for success in school. MyFreeTaxes.com assists with filing state and federal taxes.

They also offer an aging initiative for senior citizens and work to end modern enslavement and human trafficking. If you need assistance in any of these areas, you can contact your local United Way for help.

The Krazy Coupon Lady

If you are searching for the location of stores, use coupons, seek shopping deals, and more, you can check out The Krazy Coupon Lady. This is a great website for tips on shopping and getting the best pricing on food, including:

  • Do not spend more than you planned in one trip just to earn a free turkey
  • Do not purchase items you do not normally buy
  • Watch for free turkey promotions beginning in late October through Thanksgiving.
  • Watch for unusual deals like “buy a ham, get a free turkey,” and freeze the ham for Christmas if you have space.

The website also lists a Krazy Coupon Lady app you can download onto your phone to receive updates on turkey shopping deals. In addition to their app, keep your eye on grocery advertisements and other shopping apps for up-to-date information on shopping bargains.

Not Free but at a Discount

The average 2021 per pound price for turkey is $1.30 per pound. This means a 16 lb. turkey will cost $20.80 at full price.

Some stores do not provide free turkeys, but do offer deals where a turkey is available at a low per-pound price. They may have purchase requirements or loyalty cards you must use to get the lower cost. This sometimes drops the per-pound price to as low as $0.37 to $0.98 per pound, so these can be substantial savings if you have the resources to take advantage of this type of offer.

Bargains such as these are beneficial if you can share them with a friend or family member or if you have the space to buy an extra turkey for use later in the year, so keep an eye out in grocery sale circulars and on coupon apps.

Friendsgiving: Bring a Dish to Pass

One of the most social and cost-saving ways to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner is by pooling resources with family, friends, church members, or other social networks. This is a great way to bring people together, share community, and create a memorable experience for everyone and maybe allow the circle to widen to include additional people.

Hosting a Potluck

One of the easiest ways to do a Friendsgiving or community dinner is to make it a potluck. The trick to is to plan it in advance and include people who will follow through.

Consider who you want to invite and what, if any, conditions you will ask guests to observe while gathered. If, for example, you want your potluck dinner to be alcohol-free, or if you want your guests to be vaccinated, share that information up front as part of the invitation so there is no room for misunderstanding later.

Once your list is settled, you can ask everyone to “bring a dish to pass” or other resources like plates or cups. That way everyone can contribute according to their ability or need — as long as all the logistics are planned in advance and everyone follows through with their commitments. (It might not hurt to have a backup plan for some items.)

Start a list and ask everyone to contact you with the dish they plan to bring. You can encourage folks to make or bring dishes that are personally meaningful to them if they are able, even (or especially) if those dishes aren’t “traditionally” Thanksgiving. If someone suggests a duplicate, you can let them know. 

If you don’t have enough chairs, ask people to bring a folding chair or borrow from neighbors.

To add fun to the process, ask cooks to bring copies of their recipe to set beside the dish. Make the entire meal easy with disposable plates and cups and plastic silverware.

Remember, your personal Thanksgiving traditions are the ones that you create, value, and nurture. You don’t have to have a turkey or any specific food, and you definitely don’t have to buy into myths about the holiday that you may have learned about in grade school. You don’t have to celebrate at all, if you don’t want to.

You can create your own meaning and your own traditions in whatever ways help you feel connected to others and to yourself.

Community Potlucks

You may have churches or other organizations in your area that already host community potlucks or dinners. If you are unable to locate one, however, consider organizing one. Maybe your time and talents are just what your community needs to bring it together.

If you live in an area with access to a community center, you may be able to use that building for a holiday potluck. Churches, clubs, or even mom’s groups are possible resources for organizing and hosting a holiday potluck meal.

The first steps are to set a date that works with the host location and to figure out logistics like how many people your location can hold and where you will get tables, chairs, and so on. From there, it’s time to get the word out about the event with flyers, signs, and of course social media. Make sure the information lets people know what is included and what they need to bring. Ideas include:

  • Dish to pass
  • Your own place setting and silverware
  • Your own beverage

Making arrangements for the turkey or turkeys will probably be the hardest part here. If the event is being held at an organization such as a church or community center, the host organization may be willing to donate the turkey, though someone may still have to cook it. It’s also possible that your local grocery store may want to sponsor or support your event with a food donation, so stop by the service desk with information in writing about your event and who they can contact to donate if you can.

Progressive Dinner

If you cannot find a location to host a potluck, you may want to consider organizing a progressive dinner. This only works if everyone lives within a reasonable distance from each other. In a progressive meal, each course is consumed at a different person’s house.

This type of gathering works well with smaller groups. But, first, you need to organize the progression, what each “host” will be serving, and the time at each location.

Thanksgiving Help for Low-Income Families

As you can see, there are a number of ways to get Thanksgiving help for low-income families. Everything from full meals in a box to discount-priced turkeys is available.

it’s important to begin searching early for discounts. Then check advertisements and apps regularly to find new offers as they become available.

It’s also a good idea to contact local organizations such as the Salvation Army, United Way, food pantries, and local churches. Ask if they have a sign-up list to receive a free holiday box. Often, if organizations do not have the resources you need, they can direct you to other resources for help.

You can also consider hosting a small Friendsgiving potluck or organizing a big one.

Regardless of your plans or circumstances, we hope you find a little something to be grateful for in this and every season.

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