Food and Basic Needs

Even as we find ourselves more isolated than ever, our communities are coming together in entirely new and different ways.

Whether it is because of supply chain disruptions, economic turmoil or another hardship, nothing is more concerning than losing access to food and simple household supplies.  Access to supplies and food are critical to help people stay home and weather the storm, the only method that will truly curtail the pandemic until a vaccine is available.

State and local governments, along with a number of community organizations are committed to ensuring that the systems for food security remain in place.  

And, the federal government has lifted many restrictions that may have disqualified some applicants from receiving benefits in the past. This USDA Food and Nutrition Service announcement outlines several of these new allowances made in the coronavirus emergency response. Anyone in need of nutritional support – even those who may have previously been denied – should inquire about benefits.

If you or someone you know is experiencing food insecurity, please do not suffer in silence. Look to these resources for help.

Table of Contents

Food Resources

  • Food Support Resources for Seattle and King County: list of available food resources on the Mayor of Seattle website.
  • COVID-19 Seattle Area Food Resources Map: shows the locations of food banks, free meals, and student to-go meal pick-ups.
  • Expediated Basic Food Program (SNAP): U.S. citizens, legal immigrants and the U.S. citizen children of non-citizens may be eligible if they are a Washington State resident and meet citizenship and income requirements. With SNAP you can buy fresh food and vegetables, snack foods, non-alcoholic beverages and dairy products with the use of an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card.
  • Apply for SNAP online OR call the Community Health Access Program (CHAP) at 1-800-756-5437.
  • Washington 211: Free meals and food pantries information, call 211.

Food Delivery

Food Pickup

Older Adults and People with Disabilities

  • Expediated Basic Food Program (SNAP): May be eligible to apply for their Basic Food benefit application to be processed immediately.
    • Apply for SNAP online OR call CHAP at 1-800-756-5437.
  • Community Living Connections: Home-delivered meals (e.g. Meals on Wheels) for individuals age 60+ who are unable to leave their homes, call 1-844-348-5464 (toll-free).
  • Emergency Feeding Programprovides mobile delivery of pre-packaged food bags or drive-thru pick-up for people ages 55+, people with disabilities and school partners. Request mobile delivery on website OR call 425-277-0300.
  • Mutual Aid Solidarity Network offering grocery drop-offs at front doors, prioritizing persons who are sick, disabled, quarantined without pay, elderly, undocumented, queer, Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color. Request form on website.
  • Senior Shopping Hours: Seattle area grocery stores have established special shopping hours reserved for seniors and those with compromised immune systems. Visit these two trackers for details: national retails hours and west Seattle supermakets.

Pregnant People, New Mothers and Children Under 5

Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC)
WIC is a supplemental food program for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, infants and children. WIC also provides health screening, nutrition and health education, breastfeeding promotion and support, help getting other services and monthly benefits for nutritious foods.

  • Health screening
  • Nutrition and health education
  • Breastfeeding promotion and support
  • Help getting other services
  • Monthly benefits pay for nutritious foods


People without Shelter or with Low Incomes

  • Expedited Basic Food Program (SNAP): May be eligible to apply for their Basic Food benefit application to be processed immediately.
    • Apply for SNAP online OR call CHAP at 1-800-756-5437.
  • Food pick-up resources above

For US Citizens and Immigrants

  • Basic Food Program (SNAP): Although non-citizens adults are not eligible for SNAPs, their US children may be eligible. Parents can apply for SNAP online OR call CHAP at 1-800-756-5437.
  • Many food banks do not require identification or proof of citizenship. See food pick-up and delivery resources above.

State and Federal Resources

  • Basic Food Program (SNAP): Although non-citizens adults are not eligible for SNAPs, their US children may be eligible. Parents can apply for SNAP online OR call CHAP at 1-800-756-5437.
  • Many food banks do not require identification or proof of citizenship. See food pick-up and delivery resources above.

How You Can Help

Looking to volunteer or donate? Visit the County’s how you can help page for details on what you can do to help with the coronavirus response.

Tips for Visiting a Food Pantry

This section is excepted and paraphrased from a longer article written by Rachel Lindvall at SDSU here.

Sometime in your life, you or someone you know might find yourself looking to supplement the food supply that you have access to. This is normal.  According to the USDA, over 12% or 1 in 8 households in this country had difficulty providing enough food for all family members, and that was pre-pandemic. The rate is probably a lot higher now. 

If you are heading to your local food pantry for the first time, it can be a little confusing. Here are some tips for going to a food pantrythat can help you know what to look for and help you stretch the food you receive there.

  • Use several food banks.  Using more than one food bank (when available) is smart because you may be able to get something at one that you may not get at another. For instance, one may have a deal with a local gardener that gives them their extras. This may mean this food bank has more produce. There is nothing against the rules that says you cannot use more than one food bank to get more help. However, be aware that nearly every food bank has rules on how often you can go per month or week.
  • Show up early. This is very important. This means you will be first in line and have a chance to get the items that are sought after and in limited quantities such as fresh produce, dairy and frozen food. You don’t usually need to show up hours ahead of time but coming at least an hour before (depending on the size of your food bank and community) is usually a good idea.
  • Remember your documentation.  Many food pantries require documentation to prove who you are, and in some cases, where you live. This is not to invade your privacy, but to simply make sure people are not coming more than they are allowed or using fake names to do so. Call ahead of time to find out what documentation is needed. Usually, it’s just your photo ID and a piece of mail that verifies your address.
  • Eligible for other programs?  Ask your Department of Social Services office if you are eligible for other assistance programs to supplement your household’s food supply. They can easily tell you if you can apply for WIC (Women and Infant Children), USDA Commodities or SNAP(Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. Links and more information below. If your family is hungry, these temporary programs can fill important gaps in getting everybody fed.
  • Cleanliness and safety. Once inside the pantry or kitchen, take a look around. Is it clean and well organized? Do employees take appropriate safety precautions if they are handling food items directly? They should be wearing masks. Also gloves and hair nets if they are touching food items. Has the floor been recently swept? Are canned items stored in a way that they can be rotated? If they are covered in a layer of dust, they may be too old to be usable! Are refrigerated and frozen foods stored in refrigerators and freezers? If cans are dented or bulging, don’t accept them. If meat has been defrosted and refrozen ask how it has been stored. If any food items, like cereal or crackers, have open packaging, you probably don’t want them. Just because you are getting the food for free does not mean that it is OK for the pantry or kitchen to be dirty or unsafe. Always put safety first!
  • Think about foods offered in terms of meals. Most food banks here offer a choice, and you will get to pick your own foods out. This will allow you to think in terms of meals and fill in the gaps with your grocery budget. Plan to go to the pantry before you go to the grocery store, rather than after. This way, you can piece together meals based on what you’ve already received. For instance, let’s say you are given chicken thighs and a few potatoes. You could easily make this meal complete with vegetables and seasonings. For more information on including a balance of food groups in your pantry selections check out this chart.
  • Ask about extras. If you have special needs for infants or special diets, the pantries may be able to assist you. Many times, they can help with diapers, baby formula, baby food, personal hygiene products, and even special diet items like gluten free or sugar free foods. Don’t be afraid to ask!
  • Don’t be afraid to take lots of bread. Most food pantries get day old bread and bakery products donated to them from area grocery stores. Sometimes this is plentiful enough that there is no limit. Bread can be frozen, and it will just go to waste if no one takes it!
  • Go on different days of the week. Depending on the food pantry, they may be open only one or two days a week or they may be open all seven days. When you have a choice, going midweek is often best as it is less crowded.
  • Be polite to workers. Nearly everyone at a food bank is a volunteer. Be polite to the workers there as they often deal with highly emotional situations. As in so many instances, kindness matters here.
  • Food security terminology:
    • FOOD BANKS acquire large donations of edible but unmarketable food from the food industry and distribute it to organizations that feed hungry people. They solicit, store and distribute large donations of food. Food banks distribute the donations they receive to a large number of member agencies, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, meal programs, drug treatment centers, and senior care centers.
    • FOOD PANTRIES  provide three-day food packages to families that have a place to live, but not enough food. These packages are designed to provide nutritionally balanced meals.
    • SOUP KITCHENS serve individuals in need of a hot meal, the only meal of the day for many of them. Most soup kitchens serve a full, balanced meal, and some prepare and deliver meals to the homebound as well.

Healthcare and General Needs

Immediate questions about your health?
King County Public Health Hotline