Being a Survival Mom means you have a plan to feed your kids, no matter what, whether by having some food storage, growing as much as you can, or even finding free food.
That means not just if SHTF, but also if you experience unexpected, personal events that leave you actually wondering about your next meal, as happened when this couple hit rock bottom. For example, with one of my children, maternity leave lasted twice as long as I planned. We had savings for the expected time, but found ourselves in a financially tight spot when I had to stay out of work longer than we anticipated.
Life happens. Before it happens to you and you find your bank account empty and your pantry bare, here are a few ideas on where to find free food. Whether they will work for you or not, may depend on local regulations.
Find free food with these tips
- Pet-sit. I recently asked my neighbors to watch our backyard chickens for our vacation in exchange for any eggs. They ended up with 8 dozen eggs! If you don’t know of anyone with farm animals, check with your local 4-H or poultry groups.
- Side of the road. In our metro area, it’s acceptable to leave items you don’t want at your curb for others to pick up. Sometimes it’s a dresser or kids’ bikes, but frequently, people leave out extra garden produce like zucchini and tomatoes. If you see something, though, stop immediately and grab it. It probably won’t be there on your way home later.
- Community events. If you live at an apartment complex or you have a neighborhood association, watch for community events involving food. Often these will be pizza parties or cook-outs funded by member dues. Or see if you have a friend who might live where these sorts of events occur, and go as their guest.
- Serve at a catered event. Longer term, finding a job as an on-call catering server could net you more than just an hourly wage. In my experience, employees often get to take home leftover food from weddings or other events. Or volunteer to help at friends’ weddings or graduation parties. One family sent me home with enough leftover catered food to feed my family for 2 full meals after I helped with their son’s graduation party.
- Craigslist. Check ads for extra garden produce, or post an ad yourself saying you’ll take extras. Just be careful meeting people—I usually like to meet people at public places, like parking lots with video surveillance.
- Gleaning. This is the old fashioned word for “picking up leftovers after harvest.” If you live near farms or community gardens, get permission to go through after the harvest. It might be some hide and seek, but with a little effort, you could probably find dropped produce, extra fruit still on the vine, or discarded imperfect veggies.
- Church food pantry. Many churches keep food pantries. Call around to houses of worship in your area and ask. Often there are no strings attached in regards to membership, but usually there’s a limit such as visiting once a month per household or something similar.
- Community garden.In our city, we have at least one community garden where you earn a share of the produce by volunteering 2 hours a week. Check in your area, or with local CSA’s to see if you can exchange time for food. Even better, you will have helped grow it yourself!
- Hotel breakfasts.If you are traveling, or for any other reason find yourself staying at a hotel with an included breakfast, consider taking a little extra to eat later. For example, a yogurt and an apple would make a morning snack. Just be reasonable.
- Grocery stores. Make friends with your local produce, dairy, and meat market managers. Perishable foods can’t be sold after their expiration date. I’ve gotten half gallons of milk for free or nearly free (25 cents!) on that expiration date. Produce might be sorted in the morning, whereas meat might have to be tossed at the end of a business day. If you know what days or times to show up, you might be able to collect a whole meal’s worth!
- Foraging. If the idea of foraging seems daunting, then just think of this as a “snack” category. Pick raspberries along the bike trail, or the mulberries hanging over the sidewalk. Food is food, and if times are bad, every little bit–especially fresh fruits and greens–will make a difference. Always stick with plants you know–NEVER eat anything you aren’t sure about. You’ll find important foraging safety guidelines here.
- Freewill donation meals. Find the Pancake Breakfasts or Spaghetti Dinners in your community that ask for a freewill donation. Usually, they are fundraisers for the local fire department or Lions club. But if you’re in a tight spot, you could take advantage of these meals. Pay what you can, then when times are better, you could make a more substantial donation.
- Feed bread. Our local bakery outlet store will set large garbage bags of past-date bread as feed bread for farm animals. You are asked to sign a form saying it’s not for human consumption, but if times are really bad, you may find it worth going through to see if anything is still edible.
- Trade or barter. Offer your skills in exchange for a meal. Help a friend move and get pizza. Help your brother in law build a garage and stay for dinner. Help your co-worker fix his computer at home and let him pay for take-out. This is a win-win for everyone. I’ve found this book about bartering to have valuable tips for getting started.
- Your own pantry or food storage. This is why you have food storage, right? If you need it, by all means, use it! But it will go much, much further if you can stretch it with some of the above ideas.
- Bountiful Baskets or another food co-op system. If you volunteer to show up early and help out, any food that is left over or unclaimed is divided among the volunteers.
If you find yourself on hard times, you’ll probably need to rely on a combination of ideas and avenues to feed your family. But stay calm, think outside the box, and no one in your house needs to go to bed hungry.
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