I’ve been homeless and had no money, but it’s comforting to know that there are ways to stay alive and keep chugging on if you fall on hard times. If you ever find yourself down and out, here are ten ways to feed yourself for free, at least in the US.
1. Pizza Joints
Pizza Hut and other pizza joints are often amenable to giving away extra pies that result from ordering mistakes. Go in the morning and ask them to put aside any mistake pizzas for you, then swing by later that afternoon to see if they have anything. If you’re friendly, they may give you a slice even if they had no mistaken orders that day.
2. Soup Kitchens
The US is littered with soup kitchens, even in small cities. Usually, there’s an unwritten schedule, meaning that the soup kitchens stagger their service days and times to coordinate with one another so that there’s a meal in town on most days. The homeless in your area will know which kitchens are the best and can recommend a schedule of when to visit which ones. Soup kitchens are a wonderful source of a free meal. You’ll meet some nice people at them, and they may even have canned goods to take with you.
3. Catholic Missions
Catholic Missions often have a day of the week (typically Sundays), where the poor can come by to pick up cans of food. These Missions collect food donations from their parishioners throughout the week. Many church attendees brings extra cans of food with them to the Sunday service. You may be asked to sit through the service before donations are given out, which is a nice time to give thanks for life and consciousness. And if you’ve been homeless long enough, you may look something like the great man portrayed on the wall.
4. The Dumpster
It’s not as gross as it sounds. Supermarkets must throw out food that has passed its expiration date because they can no longer sell it. If you can fish it out of the trash on the day it is thrown out, the food is still good. This is particularly true of frozen items. There is typically one day per week when market staff throw out items from the frozen section. You want to know that day, and visit the dumpster that night, or early the next morning. The food may even still be cold. If you have a pet, you can also find great dog or cat food this way. Since supermarket dumpsters are typically large and hidden behind the store, not too many folks will see you rummaging, and if you know the market’s schedule, you can make a quick, strategic strike.
Go around to the back of restaurants and find the service entrance. You’ll often see cooks and sometimes waiters setting up for service or smoking. Ask them politely if you could come back after closing and pick up any left over bread they would normally just throw out. They may be happy to give you a bag of bread at the end of the day, or they might even have a plate of food waiting for you. Look for small, friendly restaurants, especially those with a hippie vibe. Even in jurisdictions where restaurants are not supposed to give away left over food, the small, local joints may still work with you.
6. Ashrams, Communities and Temples
Many intentional communities will exchange meals for volunteer help, especially physical labor. You can work in the garden, in construction, feeding animals, or cutting vegetables. Most of these communities will also require adherence to and participation in the community’s spiritual life and practices. If you’re open to different cultures and experiences, you can have an interesting learning experience, make a few friends, and stay fit, full and healthy while you plan your next move. Or you might just stay.
7. Food Pantries
Food pantries are larger commercial operations that supply soup kitchens and charities. They often receive donations in great quantities from food distributors and manufacturers. While they may be outside of town or a little out of the way, you can ask to volunteer at these sites as they often need help sorting through donations to check for spoiled food, broken containers, expiration dates, and any signs of the food having been excessively exposed to the elements. They are typically happy to exchange food for service, and you may even have access to a greater amount of food that is determined to not pass muster for their use.
8. The Hippie Circuit
So you have all these cans of food. Where do you cook them? Many campgrounds or wooded areas around towns, and in particular state and national parks, have small groups living in them that share food and camp together. There is often a communal fire and meal pot at the end of the day, where donated cans of food may be combined to make a great stew or soup for everyone. In addition, hippie gatherings such as regional Rainbow Family events, often have free kitchens that serve whoever shows up. You can even follow these groups of nomads and kitchens from place to place if you can catch a ride. Or heck, join a tribe and become a permanent nomad!
Spanging (asking for change on the street) does not have to be demeaning to you or annoying to others. Think of something creative that brings a smile to others, and be clear you are in need of donations. It could be as simple as singing a song, reciting poetry, or making a clever drawing with a riddle on it. Collecting spare change is not too hard, and a good two hours at a busy location should provide you with enough change to buy a meal.
10. Ask Nicely
There are many generous souls in this world who will help if you ask respectfully and sincerely. You can park yourself outside a Subway sandwich shop with a sign that reads, “If you don’t need the other half, I’ll eat it.” Asking works best at sandwich and sub shops where people can get a 12″ instead of a 6″ and give you half, or give you the other half of their sandwich they were just going to throw out. Asking nicely applies to every aspect of being down and out. If you need a blanket, a jacket, boots, or help finding work, try keeping your head screwed on straight and asking for help.
While many of us live in the most wealthy and developed parts of the world, we fear losing our jobs and having no money. We worry where our next meal will come from and where we will live. There are many great places to live free (I’ll do a top ten soon), but this top ten should give you confidence you’ll be able to eat free even if you experience hard times.
Featured photo credit: 123RF via 123rf.com