State cuts food program for 2,000-plus low-income seniors

FORT MYERS, Fla. A source of food for more than 2,000 low-income seniors in Southwest Florida is about to vanish.

The Florida Department of Agriculture is ending a test run of the federally funded Commodity Supplemental Food Program in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties on July 1.

The move left Harry Chapin Food Bank CEO Richard Leber searching for answers.

“We are not sure why this decision is being made,” Leber said. “They decided to take food away from Southwest Florida from low income seniors who are really struggling here in Lee, Charlotte, or Collier county and give it to seniors elsewhere in the state.”

The program is moving to cover the 10 rural and 10 urban counties in Florida with the greatest demonstrated need among seniors with income below the federal poverty line, the Agriculture Department said. Glades and Hendry, which were included in the pilot program, made the cut.

But the three most populous counties in Southwest Florida didn’t, meaning 2,284 benefit recipients will have to find a way to replace the 30 pounds of food delivered to their door each month.

“It’s something they’ve come to look forward to,” senior companion Linda Taylor said.

Fort Myers resident Maye Bell Cox is among those the program has helped since its 2015 inception, but she said she’ll now have to rely on someone else.

“I have to wait for my daughter to come from Miami to take me to the grocery store,” she said.

Cox’s neighbor, Clara Casseus, worries the end of the pilot program will force some seniors to choose between necessities.

“At our age and their age, they have a lot of medical bills and things, so you don’t want to decide whether to get your medications and whether to eat,” Casseus said.

Recipients will soon receive flyers that notify them about the change and suggest alternatives, like The Emergency Food Assistance Program, another federal initiative.

Reporter:Lindsey Sablan