The faltering economy has inspired the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) to find innovative ways of meeting basic needs of the local community while remaining true to its overall goal of creating the healthiest community in the U.S.
One of the most basic needs is food, and the Foundation found one of the neediest groups in the community included older adults. The segment also is one of the most difficult to reach. So WPHF recently approved a grant of $52,250 to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida to buy shelf-stable products for senior food packs to be distributed to hungry older adults.
Pleased with the success of the Second Harvest Food Bank’s Hi-Five Kids Pack program, which is financially supported by WPHF and provides shelf-stable foods to needy children in elementary schools, WPHF staff asked the Food Bank to explore similar ways to get much-needed extra foods to local seniors. The result is a program unique to the area, and one that has drawn attention from the United States Department of Agriculture which has struggled to find ways to feed “hidden seniors.”
Florida AARP collaborated on the project by providing an estimated 50 volunteers to help assemble the senior food packs at the Second Harvest Food Bank. The grant provided for 5,542 10-pound food packs which will include items that represent each of the major food groups, including dairy.
Community distribution points have included faith communities, food pantries, congregate meal sites, low-income senior housing communities, and a select number of Walgreens’ pharmacies serving residents of Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.
Deliveries to homebound individuals have been made by Meals on Wheels volunteers. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel will make food packs available to older adults in need, as they become known through call responses.
In addition to food, each pack contains a list of contact information for valuable community resources and services.
“It is heartening to see so many organizations interested in addressing the issue of senior hunger,” said Diana Silvey, WPHF Program Director — Older Adults.
Hunger among older adults is a growing problem. According to research commissioned by the AARP Foundation, nearly 9 million Americans 50 and older face the risk of hunger. The research report found more than nine percent of older Americans were at risk of hunger in 2009—a 79 percent increase since 2001.
The Foundation also has partnered with the Second Harvest Food Bank to provide supplemental food packs to hungry children in the eight elementary schools in the Winter Park Consortium through its Hi-Five Kids Pack program and has supported its Benefits Connection program, which helps people who are eligible for food stamps and other federally-supported services obtain them.
WPHF also has been a supporter of the Heart of Florida United Way’s Basic Needs Campaign which provides immediate financial help to Central Floridians needing help with food, rent, transportation and other life essentials.