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Church of God in Bithlo Delivers Food and Other Social Services to Food-Insecure Seniors

Church of God in Bithlo has been operating food drops since 2015. This year alone, they've provided 93,892 meals. Photo: Danielle Prieur

The American Association of Retired Persons estimates more than 10 million people ages 50 and older are at risk of going hungry every day in the United States. In Florida, where many Baby Boomers retire, this food insecurity is compounded by a lack of public transportation to grocery stores and food banks. So some organizations that provide food are holding events in neighborhoods where seniors live. It’s all part of efforts to help at-risk seniors.

Dawn Roddenberry is in her 60s. Today she's walked the block from her house with her cart to the Church of God in Bithlo. It provides free food to seniors.

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She carefully chooses her food for the week. She’s been coming to these events since they started in 2015. Back then the organization only held 3 a year. Now it’s up up to 6.

"The more you come the more you get to know. And the people here they load people's cars.”

Pastor Lisette Torres and Ruthie Lee, who runs the program, say a community has grown up around these events. That’s because they provide more than 20,000 pounds of food to 700 people while encouraging them to take care of themselves. Torres has noticed that…

"We see them now with makeup. Because you see because of Ruthie. She gives them makeup and I tell them you gotta put on some lipstick I'm a makeup artist."

University of Central Florida's Amy Donley says relationships between local service providers and seniors are crucial because..

"How many seniors do we not know about because they aren't socializing with others, they're not connected in the community or with their neighbors."

Donley surveyed more than 890 Floridians over the phone. She found one third of seniors in the state don't have family nearby. And half are not sure where they could get help if needed. Dave Krepcho of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida says communities need to do more to find these seniors.

"So many times neighbors aren't talking to neighbors. And in the ideal world wouldn't it be great to just to start from that block level for people to realize who is next door or down the block that needs help?"

The national nonprofit Feeding America anticipatesthe number of seniors who rely on food assistance will increase by 50 percent in 2025.
If you'd like to listen to the full story, please click on the clip above. You can also listen to it on Marketplace Morning Report.

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.