Senior hunger is a hidden and growing issue impacting some of the most vulnerable members of our community locally and across the country. Here in Collier County and elsewhere in Southwest Florida, low-income seniors who are on fixed incomes struggle to buy enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life, while balancing bills like rent, utilities, and medical care. Often, they choose paying a bill over buying food, or go without medicine in order to eat.
The Harry Chapin Food Bank’s Care & Share: Senior Feeding Campaign supplements the diets of more than 2,200 low-income seniors in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties with nutritious, easy-to prepare food. Seniors receive food “kits” each month. These include cheese, shelf-stable milk, a canned protein like chicken or tuna, juice, a cereal item (such as oatmeal or grits) canned vegetables (low sodium), fruit (no-sugar-added), and low-sodium soups. Much of the time, the food bank adds fresh produce and bread to the kits.
The program, which began July 1, has earned kudos from area seniors and the community. “It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” said Kari Lefort, food bank programs director. The program serves clients such as Angela, who endured a series of life events, culminating in the loss of her job. She had to leave her home in Naples and move to Bonita Springs. Angela spent several weeks living on peanut butter and crackers and dropped three clothing sizes. Now she’s a Care & Share client at the Bonita Springs Assistance Center and works part-time at a hair salon.
“Thank God for programs like this – it’s keeping me sane,” she said. “I never, ever thought this was going to be
my life now. But you never know.” The Care & Share program serves 32 of Harry Chapin Food Bank’s partner agencies, including 11 in Collier County, seven in Charlotte County, and 14 in Lee County.
In Collier County, the program serves 616 clients, with 108 on the waiting list, said Annemarie Noel, food
bank senior programs coordinator. “The Care & Share program is the largest feeding program for low-income seniors in Collier County,” said Richard LeBer, food bank president and CEO. “Many have health and mobility issues and rely on this program to maintain a healthy diet. We are so grateful for the support of our
generous community to make this program possible.”
The food items for Care & Share are packed by volunteers at the food bank’s new Collier County Center in Naples. To qualify for Care & Share, an applicant must be at least 60 years old and earn a gross income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. They must also live in a county served by Care & Share. For example, a two person household with an annual gross income of $21,172 would qualify.
Care & Share costs the food bank an estimated $1.1 million annually. Gov. Rick Scott approved $400,000 in seed money in last year’s legislative budget to help fund the new campaign. State Sen. Kathleeen Passidomo (R-District
28) championed the funding request during the state’s budget process, with support from state Reps. Chris Latvala (R-District 67) and Heather Fitzenhagen (R-District 78). The food bank needs to keep fundraising to continue the program and increase its impact.
Now, a grant from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation will match up to $300,000 in donations to the food bank when they are specifically targeted to Care & Share from donors in Collier and Lee counties. The food bank’s goal is to fulfill the match by June 30. The Harry Chapin Food Bank seeks your help in continuing to provide supplemental food to our hungry seniors.
We are excellent stewards of the donations we receive, with 97 cents of every dollar donated directed to programs and services. For eight consecutive years, Charity Navigator has given the food bank four stars – the watchdog group’s highest rating – for cost-effectiveness and efficiency. To donate, contact Kelli King, major gifts officer, at
239.334.7007, ext. 202; or Miriam Pereira, development director, at 239.334.7007, ext. 127.