The Osceola Council on Aging (OCOA) has been providing food assistance programs to the Osceola community for more than 50 years. As our community has grown in population, the need for expanded nutritional assistance services has followed that same trend. In 1971, the Council began delivering meals to homebound seniors as part of our basic food assistance outreach services; in 1975 our organization became a designated Meals on Wheels (MOW) provider. Additionally, we began offering congregate meal services through our Dining Club while implementing a local Food Pantry. Presently, the OCOA supports more than 2,000 Osceola households, annually, with expansive nutritional assistance services and programs.
Interestingly, the OCOA began volunteer nutrition services in the late ‘60s when a small group of concerned community volunteers wanted to support elderly friends and neighbors who were homebound. At that time, many seniors were placed in nursing homes when all they really needed were food and nutrition help; those local volunteers created a home delivery meal service with the capacity to serve 25 elderly and disabled adults, daily. Once the Council incorporated as a private, non-profit agency a few years later, the group integrated their meal delivery services and began the journey toward becoming a multi-service agency with a comprehensive array of programs aimed at helping the elderly while avoiding institutional placement.
Today, the Council receives more requests for nutrition services than any other program. During 2019, the OCOA served 165,000 meals to 1,000 clients while distributing more than 650,000 pounds of food to the elderly, disadvantaged and disabled seniors. During 2020, the Council delivered more than 440,000 meals to nearly 2,500 clients and distributed 1.8 million pounds of food including home delivered meals and donations from our Food Pantry.
Singularly, our Food Pantry supports more than 2,000 families each year while providing food items to seniors, disabled adults, and disadvantaged families. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Council utilizes locally donated food along with food purchased through nutrition grants to provide comprehensive food packages.
With the increased demands in the number of low-income households served in Osceola County, our food pantry demands have increased. The Pantry relies heavily on the assistance of community volunteers who donate through monetary means and/or community workplace food drives. The OCOA also works with local community partners to purchase crops for meal production and food distribution. As an example, Second Harvest Food Bank; Walt Disney World; Feed Osceola helps with providing fruits and vegetables throughout the year; Publix Super Markets; the Treasure Coast Commodity Supplemental Food Program; and local government funding from Kissimmee, St. Cloud and Osceola County. Food drives conducted by churches, community service organizations, private businesses and individual donations also provide food for distribution. In addition, the Council’s agreements with four trucking companies accept food overages refused by local grocers which are distributed (based upon availability) through the Food Pantry.
Local Boy Scout troops and U.S Mail Carriers partner to conduct annual food drives which also provide donations of shelf stable foods to the Council’s food pantries. Accordingly, our Food Pantry is opened to accept donations. Preferably, donations consist of both dry and canned foods. Basically, any food item which is nonperishable and can be kept in the pantry without going bad. Also, food which has not reached its ‘sell-by’ date. Specifically, we are always in need of:
- Peanut Butter
- Canned Soup or Stew
- Canned Fruit
- Fruit Cups
- Canned Vegetables
- Canned Fish
- Canned Meat
- Canned or Bagged
- Pasta (Most prefer whole grain)
- Spaghetti Sauce
- Rice (Most prefer brown rice)
- Dry Milk
- Boxed Macaroni &
- Boxed Potatoes
- Pancake Mix
Meanwhile, our MOW program is available to individuals who are unable to prepare their own meals, primarily the frail and elderly confined to their homes. On average, MOW delivers more than 160,000 meals per year. A sharp increase of nutritional assistance was needed between 2019 and 2020 due to the inability of opening our Dining Club because of COVID-19. In 2021 alone, we have delivered more than 200,000 meals. Our MOW program serves residents in Osceola County with 37 routes: 13 in the St. Cloud vicinity; 24 in the Kissimmee area along with routes in Intercession City, Campbell City, and the Poinciana area.
Hot and cold meals are delivered five days per week with extra meals on Friday. Our MOW recipients are often referred to the OCOA by doctors, health agencies and/or other social service organizations. Any person, 60 and over, who is physically or mentally unable to prepare a balanced meal and/or has no one to prepare meals is eligible. There is no minimum income level. Though our MOW services are expansive, we are always looking for additional volunteers to deliver meals. Donations for MOW participants is welcome and sponsorships available. A $10 donation will feed a senior for a day with two meals.
Additionally, we have a company partnership program for our MOW initiative. Companies can partner to adopt a route where employees can take turn delivering meals on certain days. Another option is sponsoring events to raise funds for MOW. It is also important for our community to continue to support Feed Osceola to help purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers. Interestingly, Feed Osceola is a campaign started during the pandemic to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to our food pantry clients. Luckily, this program will continue as it is a perfect enhancement to the Pantry supplying shelf stable food boxes.
As many communities across the country are struggling to return to ‘normal’ post COVID, Osceola County is no different. Our community was hit hard by the pandemic because of our location to Central Florida’s tourist attractions. Thus, we are continually in need of items for both our food pantry and support for our expansive MOW initiatives. For more information on how to donate to our Food Pantry, or to support our MOW programs, call 407-846-8532.
To see more guest columns by Wendy, go to https://osceolagenerations.