As the COVID-19 pandemic moved into Florida, businesses closed and seniors, especially, began living in isolation in their homes. Soon food became the center of attention. “Where to find food?” “How to get food delivered to your home?” “How to prepare food for those who had come to rely on dining out for most meals?” For those on a fixed and shrinking budget, the question quickly became, “How to pay for food?”
There are several options available right here on Fort Myers Beach for those who need food and who may be short on cash.
Beach Baptist Church at 130 Connecticut, Fort Myers Beach is offering several free hot meals each week and hosting the Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile truck every other Tuesday. They also have the Choice Market food bank available.
Hot meals are provided at the church on Sunday morning from 9 – 10am; Wednesday dinner at 5:30pm and Thursday from 9 – 11am. All meals are to-go, in keeping with Governor DeSantis order to close all foodservice dining rooms.
Anyone with children under age 18 at home can stop by Beach Baptist between 9 – 11am any Monday to Friday to pick up a “Grab & Go” bag. Each bag contains breakfast and lunch items provided by the Lee County School District.
On Thursdays between 10am – 3pm, anyone needing to supplement their food at home is invited to visit the Choice Market at Beach Baptist. You’ll be able to shop from a list of food items available in the market. Market Director Craig Nelms said the market is getting more traffic these days, with about 40% more people using it compared to pre-pandemic use.
Those interested in supporting the Choice Market financially are asked to send a check to Beach Baptist Choice Market, 130 Connecticut St, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931. Food donations can be brought to the church.
Harry Chapin Food Bank
The Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile truck has been on the Beach Baptist Church grounds for three drive-thru distributions since March 31. In the beginning the mobile truck visit was every week, then it shifted to every other week. Beginning with their next distribution date, they will be dropping off pre-packed food boxes for distribution by Beach Baptist every other Tuesday from 10am – noon. If any food boxes remain they will be used by the Choice Market. The next scheduled distributions are May 5 and May 19. No reservation necessary, just come by the church. The food bank provides food kits that include enough food to feed a family of four for 5 days. That includes shelf stable foods and produce. Stop by, pop your trunk and take home some food for your family.
The number of families picking up food boxes on the beach has grown steadily from around 100 on March 31 to 189 families participating in the April 21 distribution on Fort Myers Beach.
The food bank is making 12 stops in their five county service area distributing 5,000 pre-packaged food boxes each week. They’ve changed their distribution system to a drive-thru to minimize contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Between April 1 and April 17, the food bank distributed over 1.1 million pounds of food in SWFL. Now in their fourth week of drive-thru distributions, demand has been so great that in some cases cars were turned away.
The Harry Chapin Food Bank website provides a search feature for local food pantries and a schedule of mobile food truck stops. Click on “Coronavirus Update” then look for the “Helpful Links” on the right side of the page.
Those who wish to support Harry Chapin Food Bank by volunteering or by supporting them financially as they stretch to meet the growing food needs of our community are asked to visit harrychapinfoodbank.org. During the pandemic, they are not encouraging food drives. Volunteers are needed to help sort produce, build food kits and distribute food at their drive-thru distribution sites. If you are well, able and willing to volunteer, visit their website for more information.
Free Senior Meals
Senior Friendship Center, which has been serving Lee County since 1979, is offering free home-delivered meals to anyone over age 60. They will deliver seven meals, selected from a menu, once a week. During the pandemic they will deliver up to 14 meals at a time. Meals are frozen or shelf stable. Recognizing that getting to the store can be difficult, they are seeking out anyone age 60+ who can use free, nutritious meals delivered to their front door. You must be at least 60 years old. When you call to sign up, they will help you enroll in the Older American Act. In Lee County, call the Senior Friendship Center Meals Hotline at 239-236-8684 to sign up for meals.
Nutrition is a year-round program at Senior Friendship Centers that consists of home-delivered meals and congregate dining centers, where seniors gather to share a meal and friendship. In 2019, Senior Friendship Centers served or delivered almost 291,000 meals. Due to COVID-19, Senior Friendship Centers has ramped up its ability to deliver meals and is accepting new clients.
“By next week we will be serving around 12,000 meals per week, with the capacity to do many more,” said Debra Bragg, Nutrition Services director at Senior Friendship Centers. “Someone who wants to receive meals must be 60 or older and enrolled in the Older Americans Act, which we can help with. The meals we serve meet daily nutritional guidelines for seniors and are reviewed by a registered dietician.”
A menu is available and consists of items such as grilled chicken, lasagna, Asian glazed chicken, Tuscan pork, Chicken Verona, and more.
“These meals can be a lifeline for seniors who are homebound and unable to get supplies or cook,” Bragg said. “Because of this situation, people are scared to leave their homes to get even basic supplies. If anyone feels food insecure or feels scared to go to the store, they should call us. We can help them get nutritious meals.”
In Florida, the Area Agency on Aging is the administrative organization that distributes federal funding for senior meals programs. The recent $3 trillion stimulus bill gave $18 million to senior meal programs in Florida, with $1.3 million going to the service area that includes Sarasota, DeSoto, Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Glades and Hendry Counties. Senior Friendship Centers is the lead organization that delivers meals in this service area.
Because of COVID-19, Senior Friendship Centers’ 18 dining centers are temporarily closed, along with their medical and dental clinics, activity centers and adult day services/caregiving resource centers. In addition to home-delivered meals, Senior Friendship Centers is offering telephone reassurance calls, virtual activities and support groups, telehealth, and is collecting essential supplies for homebound seniors who need them.