The Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida (SHFB) has joined forces with seven organizations, including the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF), with the goal of creating “hunger-free zones” in some of the most poverty-stricken areas in our region. A number of groups are working collaboratively with SHFB and the WPHF in an effort to target and eradicate senior hunger. Among those dedicated to the cause are the American Association of Retired People (AARP), the Senior Resource Alliance, the University of Central Florida, Catholic Charities of Central Florida, Heart of Florida United Way and Seniors First. These organizations have a shared vision: “We see a food secure future for Orange County Seniors. Through a network of stakeholders who connect, collaborate and cooperate, we will provide nutritious food to improve health and enhance quality of life for seniors in our community.”
An initial study on senior hunger revealed the scope of the issue is widespread and complex. As the SHFB sought to tackle it, they realized that a focused approach in the most needy areas would not only help food insecure seniors but also provide valuable lessons for reaching this population on a much broader scale. One of the areas selected is the community immediately surrounding Cheney Elementary School, U.S. Census Tract 164.02. Within this Census Tract, there are 269 seniors, 69 of whom live in dire poverty and experience food insecurity. Dave Krepcho, CEO of SHFB, notes that typical of food insecure and vulnerable seniors, 40% are likely to be disabled, 20% have issues living independently, 25% are likely to be enrolled in the SNAP food benefit program and 15% are raising grandchildren.
It is the hope of the program to identify food insecure grandparents, friends of grandparents and neighbors of Cheney families by forming a partnership with Cheney Elementary School, one of 12 schools involved in the WPHF’s Coordinated Youth Initiative. Through the use of educational flyers posted at school, word-of-mouth and Class Dojo, a text messaging platform used by the school administration and teachers, Cheney Principal Tracey Gibson hopes to be able to inform SHFB of seniors in need in the school’s own backyard. Of the approximately 570 students at Cheney, 425 parents are signed up with Class Dojo making messaging of this project through the texting platform a potentially effective tool. The school and SHFB are also exploring a holiday “food drop” where bulk food items, including fresh produce, are distributed throughout the community to provide extra support over the holidays for families when school is not in session and to seniors in need. Other ideas continue to be explored. As Mr. Krepcho stated, “It can be challenging to reach seniors in need, however, the idea of connecting with grandparents through children is so smart because of the family bond.”