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Emergency Food Programs


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The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) was originally authorized as the federal Temporary Emergency Food Assistance program in 1981 to distribute surplus commodities to households. In 1988 the Hunger Prevention Act authorized funding for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to buy additional foods and to continue the distribution of surplus foods for low-income households and local emergency feeding organizations. In 1990 under the Farm Bill the program was renamed The Emergency Food Assistance Program.


The Emergency Food Assistance Program is administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at the federal level. USDA purchases the food and sends it to the states for distribution. The amount of foods received is based on its low income and unemployed population.

The New York State Office of General Services (OGS) is responsible for administering The Emergency Food Program (TEFAP) at the state level. OGS reviews food orders by regional food banks and ensures compliance with program regulation.

New York City’s program is the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP). The program is administered by the Human Resources Administration (HRA). EFAP coordinates the administration and distribution of non-perishable food to soup kitchens and food pantries.


Emergency food programs receive financial support from various sources. The USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program makes commodity foods available to State distributing agencies. Federal funding is also provided through FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program. The New York State Department of Health, Division of Nutrition, Bureau of Nutrition Risk Reduction, Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program provides funding to food banks and food pantries to the local counties throughout the state. The New York City Emergency Food Assistance Program also provides funding to many soup kitchens and food pantries.

Description of Emergency Food Programs

Emergency food programs give free emergency nutrition assistance to low-income individuals, including the elderly and homeless, throughout New York City. Emergency food is available through many local voluntary organizations, such as food pantries, which supply canned goods and non-perishable items, or soup kitchens, which provide hot meals.

Qualifying for Emergency Food Programs

Eligibility criteria vary by site. Sometimes the site will ask for a picture identification and proof of address for each household member. Also, there are sites that will only accept people with an agency referral or a letter of introduction. Some sites do not accept repeat users or have a limit on the number of visits.

There is no citizenship or immigration criteria for households seeking food assistance through soup kitchens or food pantries. Undocumented individuals can access these services.

Applying for Emergency Food Programs

NYC residents can call the Emergency Foodline automated number at (866) 888-8777 or dial 311 for operator assistance to locate emergency food assistance programs and their hours of operation. Most emergency food programs are open Monday through Friday, but some are open weekends as well. It is recommended that the individual calls the site first to confirm days and hours of operation, whether food is available on that day, and whether the person is eligible for services.