Securing Food for Struggling Florida Seniors

Securing Food for Struggling Florida Seniors

For many people, Naples offers the promise of warm weather and white sands to enjoy during their golden years of retirement. Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, with the sixth highest per capita income in America, and the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita in the U.S.

However, for an increasing number of seniors in Southwest Florida, life in Naples is not so sunny – especially those living in the community of Golden Gate, FL.

Residents of Golden Gate live in a food desert. Major grocery chains remain outside this largely walking community, so many families rely on smaller local and ethnic food stores, which typically mark up costs and carry fewer fresh produce items.

For seniors like John, who is 71 and an extended-stay resident of the Quality Inn & Suites, securing a reliable source of food has been difficult. For the past three years, he has been riding his bike to Grace Place for Children and Families to take advantage of the organization’s Friday Food Pantry.

John, a former hair stylist, retired nine years ago, hoping that his retirement savings and social security payments would provide a dependable income. Over the past few years, however, his finances and government benefits have not stretched as far as he anticipated. He holds number twenty-nine in the long line of people waiting in the afternoon heat to grab one of the 210 bags of food distributed each week. “I used to get $189 in food stamps, but that amount has been reduced to $54 worth,” he says. “I wouldn’t be eating without the support Grace Place provides.”

Ultimately, recent trends in rising housing costs and public assistance reductions have forced more people to seek additional support from agencies such as Grace Place. In the past year, the amount of people over the age of 65 coming to the Friday Food Pantry has nearly doubled to 598 from 290 visitors, which exceeds growth rates for all other groups. In fact, senior citizens now account for ten percent of all participants benefiting from the program.

John thinks Grace Place is doing a great job. He enjoys the friendly staff, and he is always surprised about the quality of food he rides away with each time. While many organizations only hand out dry and canned goods, Grace Place is able to provide a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables each week.

Although education is the core focus of the organization and its mission, Grace Place’s Friday Food Pantry, which is the largest food distribution point for the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Collier County, serves over 2,500 families a year. In the past year, the organization provided more than 350,000 pounds of food including dairy, meat, and produce, demonstrating the area’s desperate need for nourishment and health, which is essential for effective learning.

The Naples Daily News has taken notice of the increased need at Grace Place’s Friday Food Pantry. The news agency has shown its support by including Grace Place in its Satisfy the Hunger initiative, which helps stock the shelves of Collier County food pantries during the lean days of summer, the off-season of giving, when shelves are the barest and the needs of families are the greatest. Monetary contributions are matched 100 percent by campaign partners Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, Community Foundation of Collier County and United Way of Collier County, up to $70,000.

 “As a nonprofit organization serving the needs of children and adults in the Golden Gate community, we believe that taking the lead to address food insecurity supports our educational mission in providing a pathway out of poverty,” says Dr. Tim Ferguson, Grace Place CEO. “The opportunity for our entire community to be involved in the Naples Daily News’ Satisfy the Hunger initiative will unite and further strengthen our community in supporting this essential need.”

Grace Place for Children and Families is a nonprofit education center committed to putting faith into action – providing pathways out of poverty by educating children and families.  Working across the life spectrum, Grace Place currently enrolls over 800 individuals in its three educational programs: the nationally recognized Bright Beginnings program, two School Age Programs and an Adult Education program. Grace Place also works extensively with community partners to provide medical and mental health screenings, referrals for other services and financial literacy classes to the Golden Gate community.

By: Jason Forrest - | 239.234.2466