Here is Southern California, there are a LOT of food giveaways for military families. I have never been to a base with so many! There are grocery giveaways, diaper giveaways, clothing and household items available for free, and even bread giveaways! Some of these are restricted by rank (with preference given to the lowest ranks) and I think that is perfectly reasonable and appropriate. But for many of them, there is no pre-screening or need to qualify. You just have to show up and wait in a line. And so far, I have been really impressed with the quality of everything. Items are collected by local churches from local stores, and are often good brands. We have gotten Trader Joe’s food, full-size bakery cakes, hand-made quilts, and brand new clothing. On a military budget, every little bit helps.

My tips for getting the most out of free giveaways:

  1. Contact your Housing Office or MWR to get the dates and locations of regular giveaways. These are repeated throughout the year, and don’t usually require any registration.
  2. Pay attention to community Facebook pages. Upcoming events and special giveaways are often advertised here. Ask around to see if there are special Facebook pages or groups for the regular giveaways.
  3. Sign up in advance. Some groups require pre-registration, especially around Christmas or if you are receiving children’s clothing, because they want to provide the right sizes and gifts. Contact them as soon as you see their ad so you don’t miss out!
  4. Be on time. Or Early. If a giveaway starts at Noon, people are usually lining up by 11:30. Sometimes there is an advantage to the front of the line, other times they distribute tickets to keep it random. But you don’t want to be late!
  5. Think of a way to entertain the kids while you wait. Is there a playground nearby? Can you go with a friend? Do you have enough snacks? If someone is helping with the kids, it will be a much easier experience for you.
  6. Bring your own bags. Most food giveaways require you to carry away your own selections, so come prepared with your own sturdy bags. The re-usable ones are best–strong and lightweight.
  7. Bring an umbrella for shade. It sounds silly, but if you’re going to be waiting a long time in the sun in California, you’re going to want some shade.
  8. Respect the rules. Sure, you waited a long time in the line. So did everyone else. So if they tell you to take 1 chicken, 1 fish, and either eggs OR milk, then please obey. There is no need to be greedy over free food, and if you take too much, you will be depriving someone towards the end of the line.
  9. Once you get home, put most of it right in the freezer. All the food is frozen just before its expiration date, and then given away to make room in the local store’s freezers. So it is still good, but only for another day or 2. So only defrost 1 meal at a time, and then cook and eat it right away.
  10. Don’t let pride get in your way. It doesn’t matter what rank you are, how old you are, or how long you have been in the military. We can all use some extra cash and some free food, right? If local groups are offering it, why not take advantage? They just want to help the military community, and that includes you.

Do you have many giveaways on your base? Have you had a good or bad experience with them?


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