Food and Nutrition Programs

Food Distribution


The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA)
Food Distribution Program is a multi-purpose program designed to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of children and needy adults. In addition, it supports agriculture through price support and surplus removal programs. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education is the statewide distributing agency that orders food from the USDA and arranges for the receipt, storage and distribution to schools, child care centers, elderly programs, soup kitchens, and food pantries.

The Food Distribution Program is authorized by the U. S. Congress through several pieces of legislation. The primary pieces of legislation which enable the various foods to be provided to schools, child care centers and the elderly are:

  • Section 6 of the National School Lunch Act (NSLP), which mandates a per-meal commodity assistance rate for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP);
  • Section 32 of the Agricultural Act of 1935, which authorized the purchase and distribution perishable commodities in order to remove surpluses and stabilize farm prices; and
  • Section 416 of the Agricultural Act of 1949 which authorizes the purchase and distribution of commodities for the purpose of supporting farm prices.

Available USDA Foods

USDA allocates foods to each state based on their entitlement. The entitlement dollars are based on the number of lunches served during the previous year (July 1-June 30) times the mandated rate of assistance. For FY2013 the rate is $.2275 per lunch. In turn, Massachusetts prorates each school system's entitlement based on the same formula, i.e., the number of lunches served in the previous year times the entitlement rate. All foods are offered or made available on a use without waste basis.

Entitlement and bonus foods are divided into two groups, Group A and Group B. Group A foods are purchased through various divisions of the USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) to meet the nutritional needs of the food program recipients and also remove surplus farm products. Purchases are made seasonally rather that continuously. Group A foods include fruits, vegetables, meats and poultry. Occasionally, Group A foods are offered as a limited bonus.

Group B foods are purchased through price support authority by USDA's Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) and are available on a year round basis.

Details on USDA Foods

The foods that USDA donates may vary from time to time depending on what food products are available. Because of the nutritional needs of participants in programs such as NSLP, USDA purchases and makes certain types of foods available to them. Foods generally available for the NSLP include frozen and canned meat and poultry; cheeses; canned, fresh and frozen fruits, vegetables and juices; whole grain products; vegetable oil and peanut and sunflower products.

USDA has been increasing the types of foods available for donation. Today more than 180 different foods are donated for distribution to the various food assistance programs. View USDA Foods National School Lunch Program fact sheets

All foods that USDA purchases must be certified by the USDA's inspection services to assure they meet established specifications. Only high grades of meat, fruits and vegetables are accepted. Specifications for the quality of the foods purchased are constantly updated.

Over the last several years, specifications have been revised to reduce the fat, sugar and salt contents of foods purchased. For example, USDA is buying unsalted peanuts, meats with less salt, ground beef and cheeses with lower fat and sodium content, and fruits in extra light syrup. Updated specifications also improve the cooking quality of the foods purchased.

The Department of Defense (DoD) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program allows schools to use USDA Foods entitlement dollars to buy fresh produce. The program is operated by the Defense Logistics Agency at the Department of Defense. Through the Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been able to offer schools a wider variety of fresh produce than would normally be available through USDA purchases. We are aware that DoD is procuring locally to the greatest extent possible, consistent with season and quality.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

TEFAP is a federally supported program that provides donated USDA foods for distribution to low-income households in need of emergency nutrition assistance.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education contracts with a statewide network of food banks who distribute the donated USDA foods to food pantries, soup kitchens or other prepared meal sites within their area.

TEFAP foods available vary. Foods include canned, dry, fresh, and frozen products such as fruits and vegetables; eggs, meats, fish, and poultry; pasta, rice, and other grains; canned and dry beans; milk and juice; peanut butter; cereals.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources also works with the food banks to provide food assistance through the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP).

For food assistance contact the food bank in your area:

Additional Resources:

Food Distribution Resources

For more information regarding The Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Food Distribution Programs, please contact Marion Browning at (781) 338-6460

For further details visit the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Distribution Programs.

Last Updated: October 29, 2021

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.