WORDS Tara Crutchfield • PHOTOGRAPH Amy Sexson
A marketplace to end food insecurity
You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge someone’s level of food security by looking at them either. Food insecurity is a self-identified problem plaguing Polk County, that one organization set out years ago to end, in a rather creative way – by empowering the food-insecure to solve it themselves.
In a bright community space at Lakeview Tower in Winter Haven, seniors browsed an assortment of colorful, fresh fruits and veggies in wicker baskets placed invitingly around the room.
ElderPoint Executive Director, Jane Hammond looked on while describing the little talked about issue of food insecurity within the county.
A biochemist turned software developer for the biotech industry may seem like an unlikely candidate for running a nonprofit focused on assisting the elderly, but Jane has always had the cause in her heart. “I’ve always had a passion for seniors and trying to improve the quality of life for seniors whether that’s just one on one in my neighborhood or trying to turn it into something bigger,” she said.
When her husband’s work relocated the family to Polk County, Jane found herself without opportunities in her industry. She took some time to settle her family. Of all things, a lawn mower became the catalyst for her service to the elderly. “A friend of mine gave me a lawnmower, and if you’ve ever gotten the right thing at the right time, that little gesture of something, that solved a problem for you.”
She wanted to take the lawn mower and turn it into something bigger, so she set out to find an organization that could help connect her to seniors in need of having their lawns mowed.
She soon came across Faith in Action of Central Lakeland. There, she volunteered using her ability in software to develop a program matching seniors’ needs to volunteer skills. At the time, the Executive Director decided to move on and the organization was at a crossroads.
With only enough money to continue for six months, Jane stepped up to the task. Using her systematic and process design and flow-driven skills, she built it into what it is today.
“I’m really good at taking something and streamlining it and making it really efficient – it’s what I did through code, now I do it with bananas,” she laughed.
Here they are, now as ElderPoint, twelve years later with 17 locations for their markets and kiosks.
Jane explained, “The purpose of our food program is to deal with food insecurity.” According to the USDA, food insecurity is defined as when the food intake of household members is reduced and their normal eating patterns are disrupted because the household lacks money and other resources for food. Transportation being a large concern.
“We’re overcoming access because we’re right here,” she said looking around the Lakeview Tower community room.
Though food insecurity is a problem in much of the country, it is magnified in Polk County. According to Jane, “The Lakeland/ Winter Haven area is the second most food insecure in the nation.” Data on FeedingAmerica.org notes that there are 95,800 food insecure people in Polk County.
Jane admits that statistic takes many people off guard considering, “it just seems counterintuitive that a metropolitan area that is rated so high in philanthropic endeavors and certainly a focus on food, why are we then the second most food insecure?”
She explained that seniors have particular issues for why they can’t access appropriate food. Do they have transportation to the grocery store? If so, can they carry the bags back for whatever quantity they want to purchase? Do they have to buy in too large of a quantity, risking their limited resources on something that may go bad? Are they limited to the number of bags they can bring?
“What food insecurity is really about, in our area, we don’t have a lack of food per se, we have a lack of infrastructure to adequately distribute the food and make it available,” she said. “There are little hidden pieces to basically how a senior can survive that subtly impact their ability to procure food and maintain healthy food.”
For many years, ElderPoint did a free food bank concept, serving a staggering 103,383 people in 2014. But Jane saw that this wasn’t sustainable.
“By numbers, it served a lot of people, but we realized we weren’t transforming lives. We weren’t moving anyone out of the food line.”
They set out to redesign it into something that would, “Empower people to not be dependent on others for their food, but rather find their own way out and find their own food independence.”
The idea was to have markets around the county where seniors could buy fresh fruits and produce at an affordable price and make it accessible to them.
“If you look at our prices, it’s all ridiculously affordable because our goal is: We buy it all at wholesale, but we price it to cover only the cost of the produce itself and a little bit of gas to get it around.”
They buy the produce fresh from the Plant City Market and also have a partnership with Farmer Jack. “Doing that, we’re able to be much more culturally relevant in every single market that we go into because we like to take requests everywhere we go.”
As the program took off, ElderPoint realized they could only do the markets so many times a week though the demand for them was through the roof. To solve this issue they created kiosk markets which are a smaller format of their markets and exist in places where the elderly are likely to congregate such as a senior center.
In addition to their 17 locations, ElderPoint is looking to bring on 12 new kiosks in the first part of next year. The next step for the nonprofit is procuring refrigerated units with glass fronts to put in their kiosk locations. This will keep the produce fresher for longer, allowing them to offer it for more days. They’ve even been in talks with professors at Polytech about having the students design something for them.
“We have a weird little dream,” she began, “but you always have to plant these seeds because you never know where it will go.”
Their “weird little dream” is an old-school carousel style vending machine that could be put in a common area for everyone to use such as the library downtown. They would like to make the vending machine accessible by coin or token and available not only to seniors but moms looking for a quick healthy snack for their kids, the homeless, or anyone else.
“We’re all coming to the table together to try to take out the stigma of food insecurity and empower people to eat healthier.”
Learn more about what ElderPoint does for the community and how you can help at www.elderpoint.org
WORDS Tara Crutchfield
GiveWell Community Foundation
Give help. Give hope. Give well.
$161M – that’s how much money GiveWell Community Foundation (GWCF) has granted since its inception twenty years ago, and, over those twenty years, the nonprofit has made giving easier for its fundholders.
If you aren’t familiar with Community Foundations, President and CEO Terry Simmers explained that they are a 501(c)(3) public charity dedicated to make a particular region better and stronger. Though they are a nonprofit, they are not a typical service provider. The services they provide are intended to promote impactful change in their community and to assist donors with their philanthropic goals. They are more of a “connector” between donors and nonprofits, according to Simmers. GiveWell Community Foundation does not compete with other nonprofits, Simmers explained. “We don’t fundraise… we house the assets for fundholders to give out (to nonprofits) into the future.”
“The Foundation is made up of a broad base of donors – people who are passionate about animals, and people who are passionate about arts and culture, or passionate about education. What they all have in common is they want a better community,” said Communications Manager for GiveWell Community Foundation, Dave Walter. “We try to bring those people all to the table and work together to create a better now and a better future.”
From July 2017 to June 2018, the Foundation granted 948 grants totaling $21M to nonprofits. Ninety-three percent of those grants were awarded to Florida nonprofits, with 82 percent of them going into one of the three counties they serve.
With various fund options, GWCF currently is home to more than 300 individual funds and growing. “Donor-advised funds” are the most popular, making up almost half of the charitable funds at the Foundation. More than 60 nonprofits have established what is called an “agency fund” to invest their savings and be part of their collective investment pool. The Foundation also houses “community funds” for public parks in Lakeland and Winter Haven to ensure their preservation for future generations. Other fund types include designated, legacy, memorial, field of interest, and unrestricted funds.
Establishing a fund with the Community Foundation is simple, and the process can be personalized to meet your charitable giving goals. Once a fund is established, fundholders can take their time deciding where and when their donations are distributed. The Foundation can take care of the rest. GWCF is able to handle the daunting administrative aspects of philanthropy, such as giving to multiple organizations and turning non-cash assets into cash donations for nonprofits.
What projects are GiveWell proudest of? “We love seeing the impact each year from our grants... (and) last year, we responded to Hurricane Irma by creating the Disaster Relief Fund... to provide long-term relief throughout Polk County,” said Simmers. The Community Foundation also offers two annual grant cycles called “Impact Polk” and “Empower Polk.”
He described Impact Polk as “an annual competitive grant program of the GiveWell Community Foundation with the goal of addressing community needs throughout Polk County.” Empower Polk was launched this year as a new grant cycle with a goal of empowering local nonprofits and “meeting needs that will help them fulfill their mission and support our community more effectively.”
It would be an understatement to say that GiveWell Community Foundation has touched every aspect of the community. Discussing the organization’s community impact, Simmers said, “The community leaders who established the Foundation wanted to establish a culture of philanthropy here in our community. They wanted to invest in their community, and, today, there are more than 300 active charitable funds at GiveWell Community Foundation. In addition to grantmaking, the Foundation provides insight to fundholders and nonprofits. Fundholders have the peace of mind of knowing that their donations are truly making an impact. We also meet with many nonprofits to provide insight and expertise and learn from them about pressing needs throughout our community.”
GiveWell Community Foundation
1501 Florida Ave S, Lakeland
20 3rd St SW #307, Winter Haven
WORDS Tara Crutchfield • PHOTOGRAPH Amy Sexson
Heart for Winter Haven
Collaboration and collective impact, that’s the goal that Heart for Winter Haven set out with, to equip the underemployed, bring a community to the marginalized, and heal the broken.
Five years ago, a member of Heart for Winter Haven Executive Director Brad Beatty’s church wanted to invest in the community in a similar way to the Lake Wales Care Center. This person gave some money to start Heart for Winter Haven, an organization that was to make a remarkable impact on the lives of many, but certainly the life of one special young man. The organization started as a means to unite the faith community with nonprofits to work towards bringing a strategy to their common goals of helping people.
“We felt like we really needed to focus on a network of care,” said Beatty. Along their way to figuring out how to do this, they found that a missing piece to the puzzle was communication with the business community.
“We call that our three-legged stool. That’s our approach, the nonprofits, the faith community, and the business community. How can we bring each of these stakeholders together to think about the good of the community?” said the Executive Director. “We believe that by creating those relationships and these ways of being able to communicate, we can begin to collaborate and then move towards having that collective impact together.”
Then board member, now Director of Operations and Equipping, Margaret Jones was particularly excited about their flagship program, Jobs for Life. This program focuses on the importance of employment.
“There is this sector of our society that was underemployed or unemployed chronically and no one was really reaching them,” she said.
“Jobs for Life is trying to reconnect people with success through work,” explained Beatty. “Preparing them for the workplace, a lot of the employability skills, and overcoming some of the deficits in their life to enter into the marketplace and really understand what an employer wants in an employee. How do they grow their salary, what is this achievement ladder, and how do you climb it?”
These three pieces of the church, nonprofit, and businesses offered everything someone would need to be successful – building relationships, food and resources, and job preparedness and opportunities.
Beatty said, “This program is really about developing lives that are going to develop the community.” He explained that someone who has jumped from one low paying part-time job to another and can get help turning that around to get on a career trajectory will have their lives and the lives of their family forever positively changed.
Jobs for Life prepares the underemployed and unemployed to enter the workforce by refining their job skills. Through twice-weekly classes over 8 weeks, a total of 16 classes, the program focusses on a deliberate 16 topics to improve the soft skills that may be missing or need to be refined to enter into the workforce.
Heart for Winter Haven offers what Margaret calls a “web of care,” a hub of connections and resources to address issues that may keep people from procuring and sustaining employment.
Obstacles to employment can include things like a lack of skills, running water, food, electric, or transportation.
Beatty, speaking about Jobs for Life said, “Some of the deliverables that the students get are that they will develop a vocational plan.” This vocational plan will have a time correlation, assessment of resources available, and what action steps need to be taken to get to their goal. Students have to do research on what skills employers are seeking and plan step by step to work on those things.
Students are taught to develop a 30-second commercial sales pitch of themselves and base it around a character quality. According to Brad, there are four basics that every employer wants: to have employees that show up on time, work the entire time, get along with others, and be teachable. The program connects each student with a “Champion” to walk alongside them, supporting and encouraging them to develop these skills.
“It’s more blessed to give than to receive, so if we’re looking for those opportunities to add value, we’re going to be the kind of person that’s going to be valuable to an employer,” said Beatty.
Along with their vocational plan, students get help working on their resumes, perform mock interviews and attend business panels.
Beatty estimates there are over 50 graduates of the program and hopes to have classes in every quadrant of the city.
While it is their intention to teach people to add value to the community, it is Heart for Winter Haven impacting people’s lives as well.
One such case is the story of a young artist named A.J.
To enter into the Jobs for Life program, each student must go through an interview. A.J. didn’t go through this process, he showed up one day and took everyone by surprise.
He learned about Heart for Winter Haven through his girlfriend. After months of hearing about the program, he went one day with his sisters and fell in love with the program, saying it was something he needed.
“This young man is brilliant. He is an artist, he is intelligent, he has shone in every single class,” beamed Margaret Jones. In one of their business panels he had the chance to ask questions to business leaders and impressed them with his insightful, intelligent inquiries.
Margaret, Brad and the Heart for Winter Haven team have not only been helping A.J. with employment, but with resources, food, furniture, and most importantly by believing in him.
When asked what he needed from them and from God in a moment of despair, A.J. told them, “What I really want is for people to see the greatness inside of me.”
Though you wouldn’t guess it by talking to him, A.J. has had a tough life. He’s been robbed, held at gunpoint and gone through valleys of adversity in his life. “There was sadness and lack of hope in my situation and there was no one to turn to but myself and that’s how I ended up diving into my art even further because I felt like that was my way out,” he said.
The thoughtful and well-spoken 20-year-old talked about how he got into art, “I manifested it through a lot of years of being an introvert as a kid. I never really talked to a lot of other kids my age and I ended up diving into reading books and loving the art on the cover. I would draw the cover and then read the book afterward.”
He incrementally grew his skills, fine-tuning his craft to be able to, “render the face of a woman and draw the glare in her eyes and the details in her pupils.”
Currently, A.J. is expanding his artistic abilities to include hyperrealism and pointillism and has been tampering with paint and sculpting.
The artist with a fresh air of hope in his voice, discussed the impact Heart for Winter Haven has had on his life, “It’s like a family, it’s truly like a family. They’re really good people and they have pure intentions. That’s a benefit to be able to feel like you belong somewhere, to be able to feel like these people have your back and that they’ll do what they have to do to see you grow as a person.”
He said they have helped him gain exposure as an artist, to blossom, and ultimately allowed others to see the greatness inside of him.
If hearing A.J.’s story makes you want to be a part of this special community, there are ways you can help. “Our greatest need right now is people who say I’m going to give up my time two days a week to walk alongside someone who is underemployed,” explained Margaret. To volunteer your time, reach out to Heart for Winter Haven to see how you can become a champion for someone in need of one.
Heart for Winter Haven
228 Ave C SW, Winter Haven