Non-profit Spotlight: ElderPoint Ministries

Hunger issues have been a part of the narrative in Polk County for more than 20 years. In fact, the Lakeland / Winter Haven metropolitan area is the second most food insecure in the nation.

What does that statistic from the Food Research Action Council really mean? For our community, it means nearly one person in four responded in a Gallup poll that they lacked the resources to obtain healthy food at some point in the last 12 months.

Lacking resources doesn’t mean they just don’t have the money; it can also mean they didn’t have transportation or live in a food desert. Although most people informed about the status as the second most food insecure city assume kids or our homeless population put us in this compromising position, it is actually our elderly population that moves us up the list.

For seniors, food insecurity is wrought with special circumstances. Fixed incomes, a lack of participation in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), transportation challenges, and physical challenges all conspire to make healthy eating seemingly impossible.

ElderPoint Ministries focuses on improving the quality of life for seniors in Polk County. For nine years the ministry served seniors by distributing more than 25,000 pounds of food per month with a mobile food pantry and provided transportation, including wheelchair accessible rides.

In 2016, the agency really began considering the food insecurity statistic and asking seniors, “What can we do to get you out of the pantry line?” The answer: mobile produce markets. It may seem counterintuitive to stop giving away free food and start charging a modest fee to increase access to healthy food, however the growing popularity of the markets is proof that seniors want to create their own food sovereignty.

ElderPoint began with one market a month featuring an average of 20 high-quality produce items offered at a low cost. ElderPoint now offers 18 market locations per week in a variety of locations where seniors naturally congregate, including mobile home parks, over-55 apartment buildings, a life-care community and senior centers.

In the past six months of operation the mobile markets have served more than 6000 seniors, making fresh, nutritious food directly available and affordable.

Making the markets consistently available directly to seniors empowers them to make healthier choices, not only easing food insecurity, but also improving their overall health and quality of life.

Access is also about transportation and ElderPoint Ministries has been the lead agency for volunteer transportation in Polk County since 2010. ElderPoint created an award winning transit program that provides rides to seniors so they can stay connected to healthcare, social activities, and shopping even if they depend on a wheelchair. The volunteer drivers are wonderful caring people that recognize the challenge of not having control over one’s own transportation.

ElderPoint welcomes caring individuals to apply to be a volunteer driver. Rides are scheduled according the driver’s preferences and volunteers are rewarded with wonderful experiences helping local seniors.

As with all nonprofit agencies, ElderPoint welcomes the support of the community, either through donation or sponsorship opportunities. The programs reach hundreds of seniors each week and the vehicles travel throughout the county and into Tampa, making sponsorship valuable to the agency and the business alike.

For more info call 863-682-7249 or visit ElderPoint.org.