So there was this one time that I had to call in and renew my SNAP benefits. There’s this handy dandy over the phone push the buttons thing and it was going great until they got to the “has your insurance status changed” question and I was like “yes” and the automated voice told me the interview was over and to have a nice day and we’d be getting something in the mail.

I guess in most cases, having insurance from an employer means you don’t need SNAP anymore. Makes sense to me. Unfortunately, this is not the case for us just yet because of the nature of the apprentice program. I waited for the documents in the mail (they came in three days) and I filled them out and made photocopies of all our materials and popped them in the mail the next morning. My mail gets to my house late enough that by the time I filled everything out and made copies the post office was closed, or I would have had them back in the mail the same day.

Fast forward two weeks and I get a document in the mail telling me I was denied renewal because I had not sent the documents in. I called the main hotline number and talked to a very nice lady in Springfield, IL who informed me that they are so backed up with mail in that office that there was no way they were going to get to my information in time. She suggested we file an appeal and asked if we wanted to continue receiving SNAP benefits while the appeal was pending.

Uh….YES please. ūüôā

So she set it up and, since then, Mr. Brickie has been into the local office to give over current paystubs and information. He is told that he did everything right and they make copies of all our information all over again and tell us that even if it doesn’t get processed right away the appeal would keep us from getting cut off. This last time (yesterday) we were told it would be given directly to a manager and at the most would take a couple of weeks.

We were hopeful things would go smoothly, but nervous, because the system is flawed even when you follow the directions exactly. The risk is part of being poor. You know that even if you do everything right, everything might not work out.

So when I checked my account online this morning I was not filled with shock when I saw that our SNAP was not renewed. There was a sigh and then it was on to Plan B …

How to Find Food Help in your Area

The FoodPantries.org website has a pretty comprehensive listing of food pantries across the US. You click on your state, type in your city, and you get local food pantries and links when available. Please call first if you can to see what proof you need to bring. Some sites want birth certificates to prove family size, others want to see your medical card or link card, and others just need your photo id to make sure you reside in their servicing territory.

Feeding America also has a food bank site locator. When I used it, I got different results from the food pantry website above. This one shows covered areas of the food bank which is nice, because some of the ones on FoodPantries.org do not serve my town – we found that out the hard way. Now we call or email before showing up. (Sometimes showing up worked once, however, so if you go and they say they don’t serve your area, ask them if they will help you out once because you spent time and money you didn’t have getting there. Be polite. It helps immeasurably.)

Direct2Food has a pretty comprehensive search that will give you customized results based on your family situation and lets you know not only what you might be eligible for, but where the offices are located to apply for services, a phone number, and a listing of soup kitchens. I didn’t realize there were four soup kitchens fairly close to my house.

If You Live in IL and Don’t Qualify for Free Food

If you are in the IL area and have too much money to be eligible for food pantries but not enough money to buy enough food for your family,¬†The¬†Power Connection¬†is in Barrington, IL … it is basically a huge day-old bakery with everything from baby formula to parsnips. We have gotten things from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as well as no-name brand canned goods and fresh produce. I also got ten bags of flax seed one time and that’s what I’ve been making my flax seed tea out of since my gallbladder attack. There is a weekly “shop” with a $10 donation, but the every-other-weekly “shop” for $20 is where you will come home with an overflowing cart full of food. They also have a resale shop.

If you’re looking for something holiday oriented then you’re going to want to check out ways to get some help for Christmas for your family. That means we need to visit and register for …¬†

The Charitable Web

Food pantries are great. Food is great. I am grateful. If I was still trying to eat “clean” or “paleo” or some other restrictive, picky way they would be not-as-helpful but as long as you’re willing to eat food with calories in order to not collapse into a heap on the floor, you’ll be just fine. Honestly, even when I was paleo we made it work, so it’s possible to do even with a specific diet, it’s not more difficult.

Among the sites for handwriting, sports teams, music, and infertility there were a couple for assistance. One was financial assistance and the other was specific Christmas assistance. The descriptions in quotes come directly from the subreddit.

Santas Little Helpers Reddit – SantasLittleHelpers is here to bring joy to needy folks and families this holiday season. You can make requests for gifts, cards, make offers, hold contests or anything else that will make the holiday season brighter.

Assistance Reddit¬†/ Food Pantry Reddit – While you have to be a registered member for 90 days in order to ask for financial assistance, “All accounts can ask for advice, votes, jobs, food, essentials, used items and bona fide charity sites.”

Charity Reddit – There are a lot of crossposts from these three. Your Reddit account must be over 20 days old to post on this subreddit.

Random Acts of Christmas Reddit – A subreddit focusing on random acts of kindness for Christmas.

Random Kindness Reddit – Posts offering and asking for help.

Random Acts of Pizza Reddit / Random Acts of Cookies / Random Acts of Lunch РWhen you are using all your money for toilet paper and bills, maybe you could treat your family with the help of Reddit and get some take out pizza thanks to a fellow Redditor!

Random Acts for Pets¬†/ Random Acts of Pet Food – I know my Christmas budget certainly didn’t cover my basset hound. While Penny the Hound won’t mind missing out on Christmas (you know, because she’s a dog and she thinks crumpled wrapping paper is the second coming of awesome) I have a feeling my girls will be sad if she doesn’t get anything.

Random Acts of Birthday – This is not need based. Post the link to your amazon wish list no more than a month out from your birthday. Maybe someone will send you something nice! (With any of these reddits that ask for an Amazon Wish List link please do your best to make your choices Prime eligible. No need to make someone pay shipping on your behalf if it’s not necessary!)

Random Acts of Amazon – For real. Get an Amazon Wish List. You might not get anything (hence the “random” in the title) but it can’t hurt and you have much better odds than a contest. Especially if you participate in reddit.

Donate Reddit / Donation Reddit – Two subreddits with the same general purpose.

Free Reddit – A subreddit offering free stuff. A few things I saw were gift cards, t-shirts, and games. Having a Steam account will make this more helpful. A lot of the giving sites that give games give them through Steam.

Gift of Games Reddit – Generous reddit users giving the gift of games. Did I mention it’s helpful to have a Steam account? I think I did. Let me reiterate that. It’s good to have a Steam account. Wondering what Steam is? Or how to sign up for an account? Or how to use Steam? These videos will help.

HelpIt Reddit – (from the subreddit description) “This is the subreddit for helping! We’re Reddit, and we can make big things happen. Let’s get out, get our hands dirty, and help out our communities. There’s a bajazillion people on Reddit. We can show the world we mean business when it comes to being AWESOME.”

Loans Reddit – You won’t get help here unless you’re a regular user of the site and are willing to post with your main username. Otherwise, stick with the Assistance Reddit above. But if you don’t have a good story and are active on Reddit, this might be a great option for a short term loan.

The Salvation Army – Oh, I know they can be controversial but I’m not going to leave off potential help because of it. Maybe I should. If you think I should please feel free to tell me. In the meantime, the link will take you to their Christmas Assistance page and you can see the potential services offered. The site says they start taking registrations in October, so it could be dicey later in the year.

Modest Needs – This is my favorite online charity site. They have a Holiday Grant Section where you can apply for holiday assistance for your family. Since this charity does not give cash directly to recipients, you will probably have to make an Amazon wish list or something similar. Also, keep this site in mind if you have a car that needs to be repaired or a car payment that needs to be made and you just don’t have the money to make it. If you don’t qualify for the holiday grant they may have other grants you do qualify for. The application process will help you get to the right grant for your situation.

Toys For Tots – A tried and true Christmas charity. You can click on “Request a Toy” at the top of the page and either apply online or you will be referred to where you need to go to apply. Applications open around October and close pretty early, so this one you need to set a calendar reminder for and get on early.

Wish Upon a Hero (Hero Network) – Be a hero or ask for the help of a hero. Share your story and get the help you need.

Giving Back to Others (Anyone can do it!)

If you’re poor, you’re probably thinking, “What? Are you kidding?” But you can give back without having to have money. Visit the Favors subreddit and give back with a few minutes of your time. Even if you don’t believe in karma, it can make you feel good to give someone some help after asking a bunch of people for help for you and/or your family. It’s just a thought.

If you have .46 cents and a card not currently being used on your desk, you have everything you need to send a card to someone in the Random Acts of Cards subreddit, so much the better. No matter how much or how little you have, you can brighten someone’s day in a real, tangible way.

Every one of the links in this post can be used to receive help or give help. You could take a survey for a graduate student online, adopt a child or whole family or pick one thing from one wishlist or send one card or make and mail a batch of cookies. Whatever place you’re in, you can give to others. This study shows the fast-track to true happiness is giving to others. So do it for them…and do it for yourself.

I will keep updating this list as I find more resources. If you know of any I don’t have listed I’m happy to add it with your named link to a site of your choice (i.e. thanks to @jennydecki for this link) ¬†
Last update: 12/07/2013