I’m Experiencing Food Insecurity. What Do I Do?

Facing food insecurity is a daunting experience that many encounter unexpectedly. Whether due to a sudden job loss, regional high cost-of-living, or unforeseen financial challenges, finding oneself unsure of where the next meal will come from can be frightening and overwhelming. In this article, we’ll outline actionable steps for accessing nutritious food for those experiencing food insecurity, including emergency food resources and food assistance programs like CalFresh and WIC.

Understanding Food Insecurity

Food insecurity refers to the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. It’s a complex issue affected by a variety of factors, including income, living costs, employment, race, and geography. Importantly, food insecurity doesn’t just mean going hungry; it also encompasses the ability to consume a balanced and nutritious diet. In the face of such challenges, knowing where to turn for help is crucial.

Emergency Food Resources

In many places, food banks, nonprofits, and community groups offer emergency food resources to those needing immediate assistance. These can include food distributions, food pantries, free meals, and grocery delivery programs.

At the SLO Food Bank, we are pleased to offer our Food Resources Map, a searchable database of local food distributions and meal services. This map is an essential first step for anyone experiencing food insecurity, providing instant access to nearby support.

Read on for more information about the kinds of emergency resources potentially available in your community.

Food Distributions

Food distributions offer pre-packaged units of food including a variety of produce, non-perishable goods, and other staple items, intended to offer the ingredients needed to make nutritionally complete meals.

The SLO Food Bank offers Neighborhood Food Distributions across SLO County, through which we provide units of fresh produce, shelf-stable food, meat, and more, depending on availability. All of our Neighborhood Food Distributions are free to income-eligible recipients, open to the public, and located in every community countywide.

Food Pantries

Food pantries, offered by local organizations across the community, provide a range of food items that can help individuals and families get through tough times. They often offer both perishable and non-perishable items, ensuring recipients have access to fresh produce and staples alike.

Food pantries allow neighbors to “shop” their inventory, which can provide more opportunities for neighbors to choose food based on their preferences and diet. Food pantries can be a good option for those who have limited diets, as they can pick and choose which items they take home with them.

The SLO Food Bank’s Food Resources Map includes hours, locations, and more information for pantries hosted by nonprofit Agency Partners across San Luis Obispo County.

Free Meals

Many organizations also provide free meals, catering to different populations including students, seniors, and those experiencing homelessness. These meals are prepared with the aim of offering a warm, nutritious meal to those in need, no questions asked.

Again, you can find a list of free meals held by nonprofit Agency Partners throughout San Luis Obispo County on the SLO Food Bank Food Resources Map.

Long-Term Food Resources

While emergency resources are critical for immediate needs, long-term solutions are necessary for sustained support. That’s why we advocate for and spread awareness of programs like CalFresh and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which offer financial assistance to purchase groceries, focusing on nutritious food options.


CalFresh, known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides monthly benefits to assist low-income households in purchasing the food they need for good health. Eligibility is based on several factors, including income, household size, and expenses. Learn more about CalFresh here.


WIC is a special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children. It provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. Details on eligibility and application processes can be found here.

Other Helpful, Actionable Steps for Dealing With Food Insecurity

Beyond these resources, there are several other resources one can utilize to increase access to nutritious food. These include:

  • Community gardens: Participating in or starting a community garden can provide fresh produce and foster a sense of community.
  • Food shopping strategies: Shop smart to get the most out of your food budget. Here are some of our best tips for affording healthy food on a budget and saving money in the aftermath of food inflation.
  • Nutrition education: Many organizations offer free classes on budget-friendly cooking and nutrition information to help maximize the benefits of the food you have access to. Check out our Recipes and Resources page for healthy, affordable, culturally inclusive recipes and science-based nutrition education.
  • Advocacy: Engaging in local food policy and advocacy efforts can lead to systemic changes that increase food access for everyone in your community.

Experiencing food insecurity can be incredibly challenging, but there are numerous resources available to help. From emergency food assistance to long-term support through programs like CalFresh and WIC, it’s possible to find help. Making use of local food resources, participating in community solutions, and educating oneself on nutrition can all play a part in alleviating food insecurity.

About the SLO Food Bank

We at the SLO Food Bank believe that everyone has the right to nutritious food. That’s why we work hard to ensure access to fresh food for everyone in our community. We structure our programs in a few different ways to make fresh produce more accessible and affordable for those who need it. We also promote food assistance programs like CalFresh, while also hosting food distributions in the most rural areas of our county, where a grocery store may be more than 50 miles away.

With our network of community partners in San Luis Obispo, we strive to alleviate hunger and to build a healthier community. If you’re in the area, check out our Food Resources Map to find food sources near you, or support our cause through volunteer opportunities or donations, if you are able to give. Donate today to help us bring health and hope to San Luis Obispo County!