Rick, 71, sat behind the steering wheel of his car, breathing with the help of oxygen from a tube attached to his nose.
His was part of a long line of vehicles wrapped around the parking lot at Hope Connections in LaBelle, all bearing seniors who waited patiently for their monthly distribution of food from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).
Rick has emphysema and other respiratory problems. “I get Social Security – I don’t get much,” he said. “I have to pay my car insurance and rent out there, and water, and light.” The bills come first, he said. “Then there’s what I got left. That’s what I go on.”
Rick gets help from CSFP, which provides about 30 to 35 pounds of nutritious food once per month to eligible seniors age 60 and older. The program is run by the state Agriculture Department and operated by the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida.
The food bank has received the go-ahead from the state to expand the program in Hendry and Glades counties only. There is a catch – 1,450 more seniors must register by July 1, or the food bank risks losing the additional funds for expansion.
The expansion is needed, said Samira Beckwith, president and CEO of Hope Connections, which has offices in LaBelle, Moore Haven and Clewiston. “Since we’ve worked here in Hendry and Glades for so many years, we know there’s real need and limited resources. We have people on all kinds of waiting lists for our different services. Somehow Hendry and Glades are often forgotten – the people of Hendry and Glades.”
Seniors with lower incomes may have multiple health problems and difficulty making ends meet, she said. “This program enables them to have better nutrition, which leads to a better life.”
Throughout the morning, the seniors kept coming. Those who receive CSFP from Hope Connections have already met eligibility requirements and registered for the program. To qualify, an applicant must be at least 60 years old and earn a gross income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. For example, a two-person household with an annual gross income of $21,112 would qualify.
The seniors sign in and show their IDs. Since most have low mobility, they return to their vehicles and wait in line.
Volunteers load the cars, one by one. This time around, the food bank was able to provide fresh watermelon and zucchini to go along with the bagged food. The healthy food seniors receive aims to keep them from having to make hard choices like eating or paying bills.
“It helps me immensely,” said Denise, 71, of the CSFP program. “I’m a widow. I’m on a fixed income.” The food she gets for one month can last her almost to the next month, “because there’s just me,” she said. “Financially, I can’t afford to go out shopping.”
The fact that the food bank is seeking to sign up seniors so the CSFP program can expand in Hendry and Glades is “wonderful,” Denise said. “You have so many people here in LaBelle that don’t come forward. Talking to people, they don’t want to come out and I don’t understand why they don’t want to come out,” she said. “I learned by coming out.”
“Duke,” 75, was a saltwater fisherman in Barbados before coming to the area more than 40 years ago. Now he’s retired from working in the irrigation and chemical areas of the citrus industry. He relies on the CSFP senior food program to get by.
He also delivers CSFP to seven other people in the community. “I do that because a lot of people, they don’t have transportation,” he said. “Some are unable to get here.” Other volunteers deliver CSFP to about 60 other clients who can’t get to the once-monthly distribution.
Seniors in Hendry and Glades counties interested in applying for CSFP can come to or call any of Hope Connections locations in LaBelle, Moore Haven, or Clewiston during business hours. They may also sign up by contacting or visiting any of eight other agencies
• LaBelle: Nobles Senior Center, 475 East Cowboy Way. Phone: 863-675-1576
• Moore Haven: 501 1st St. Phone. 863-946-0366
• Clewiston:1200 South W.C. Owen Ave. Phone: 863-983-8942
• Catholic Charities of Hendry/Glades, 208 North Deanne Duff St., Clewiston. Phone: 239-672-6119
• Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist church, Della Tobias Ave., Clewiston. Phone: 863-983-8313.
• Serving With Love Ministries, 330 S. Estribo St., Clewiston. Phone: 863-254-7794 or 863-228-6479.
• Feeding with Hope (formerly Iglesia Nueva TV), 217 East Aztec Ave., Clewiston. Phone: 863-983-1070
• Lighthouse Apostolic Church, 911 Evercane Road, Clewiston. Phone: 863-599-9333
• First United Methodist Church, 300 Avenue L., Moore Haven. Phone: 863-227-4647
• Goodwill Industries, 1150 US-27, Moore Haven. Phone: 863-946-0572
• Living Waters Fellowship, 600 Avenue F, Moore Haven. Phone: 863-509-9116.
Seniors may also call Annie Noel, CSFP coordinator at the Harry Chapin Food Bank, 239-334-7007, ext. 143 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.