Our objective was to identify the benefits and barriers associated with participation in food programs. We did a content analysis of focus groups with parents (n=21), teachers (n=10), project staff (n=21), and children (n=17) in three low-income Ontario communities. The key benefits identified by the three adult groups were hunger alleviation and social contact opportunities for both parents and children. Parents also benefited from volunteering with and/or participating in food programs because neighbourhood support networks developed. Teachers reported that children who attended breakfast programs became more attentive in school. The food programs also provided an opportunity for nutrition education. Offering food as part of all community programs (not just those designed to increase food availability) encouraged participation and increased attendance. Children thought that attending food programs kept them healthy, and helped them work harder in school. Parents' pride was the main barrier to participation in programs; however, parents who were actively involved in program delivery did not feel stigmatized accepting food. To encourage participation, nutrition professionals should collaborate with local residents to develop and implement community-based food programs.