If you’re willing to be patient, gracious, and alert to opportunities, you can enjoy free meals on certain occasions. Here are ways that have worked for me.
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1. Volunteer. Volunteering doesn’t guarantee a free meal but if you volunteer, you’ll often find that meals are offered during stints that span the breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours. Sponsoring organizations will typically let you know if a free meal is offered, either for all volunteers or those working at designated times.
Sponsors of sports or themed events will typically give a ticket or pass to volunteers that can be redeemed for a meal. Clean-up days or outreach blitzes often have meals as an incentive to attracting random people for single-day activities. Other groups that have deeper relationships with volunteers may host annual appreciation events, such as a thank-you breakfast, so watch for an invitation if you volunteer routinely.
2. Donate blood. Like volunteering, timing and alertness are crucial to getting a free meal when giving blood. Free snacks should be available at the donation centers and mobile blood drives but events hosted by community organizations may offer more support.
Thanks to a retired nurse and skilled consumer advocate who coordinates blood drives in my area, there are meals and homemade desserts (rather than packaged snacks only) available to donors. A good time to schedule a donation is around lunchtime (give or take an hour) so that you can eat before or after giving.
3. Attend a business celebration. Businesses will often host special events to show appreciation for loyal customers or commemorate some milestone, such as the opening of a new location or an anniversary. Look for flyers at your favorite merchants or ads announcing special events. The meals may be hot dogs and chips but larger scale, celebratory type events tend to be focused on building goodwill in the community and are less intimidating than private, sales-oriented dinners.
4. Accept an invitation.
It can be perfectly okay to accept an invitation for a breakfast, brunch, luncheon, or dinner without making a contribution (though small gifts are welcome). The convention of expecting guests to contribute to hosting an event is somewhat new and nontraditional; exceptions are covered dish or potluck meals, parties planned as a group that happen to be hosted at someone else’s home, and generally accepted rules among a set of friends that everyone will bring an item. Reciprocal invitations (at a later date) are appropriate but some creativity (find frugal party ideas
here) can minimize your expenses.
5. Be a guest speaker. If you happen to have expertise that you’d like to share, you should be able to find community groups and civic clubs that have a recurring need for guest speakers at their meetings. These meetings will often be accompanied by a meal, which should be offered to you at no charge. Bonuses are the opportunities to learn about community happenings, showcase your capabilities, and network with group members.
More resources for free food: