Some Seniors Starved in Florida

Many senior citizens or physically challenged individuals rely on community programs to help them maintain their independence as long as possible, which it is why is was such a shock when one southwest Florida private neighborhood refused to allow a food delivery service to enter the neighborhood. While many older adults are able to live in their homes, they may not be able to drive for a variety of reasons, such as poor eyesight or other physical challenges. These individuals depend upon organizations such as Meals on Wheels and local food banks to deliver healthy meals or food to directly to their homes.

In July 2015 local news outlets featured alarming headlines proclaiming local seniors were starving because the owner of Carlyn Estates Mobile Home Park in Palmetto, FL issued violation notices to 28 residents who were receiving deliveries from a local pantry. Threatened with potential eviction, the majority of the residents scheduled to receive the delivers were refusing the food service, electing to go hungry rather than lose their homes. Fortunately, someone tipped off the local television station, 8 On Your Side, about the situation and the media attention likely helped bring about a resolution.

The Manatee County Meals on Wheels PLUS quickly jumped in to try to help defuse the tense situation by offering to provide hot daily hot meals for all of those residents. Aside from the food panty deliveries, there were three residents who received daily hot meals from Meals on Wheels PLUS during the same time period with no apparent interruption from the park owners. Therefore, Kristen Theisen, chief development officer for Meals on Wheels PLUS, said “I think the ideal situation would be to ask the residents receiving the food to contact Meals on Wheels PLUS and maybe provide home delivered meals for them.”

Apparently, the residents of the mobile home park were threatened with eviction because the park owner, Tonia Sonju, believed they were operating a commercial food bank on the park property, at least according to the wording of notices the residents received and shared with the Bradenton Herald.

Theisen also talked with the park owner and confirmed that the park owner had the impression that a food distribution network was going on at the park. Theisen said the threatened residents had been receiving food deliveries every Tuesday from Hope Center, a food pantry and she there might have been some confusion over the terminology and functions of a food bank versus a food panty. “A food bank is the primary source of food that supplies food pantries,” Theisen clarified. “The Food Bank of Manatee, which is operated by Meals on Wheels PLUS, is the only commercial food bank in Manatee County.”

Diane Klein, a 76-year old resident of Carlyn Estates since 2009 who is also a food pantry volunteer, was outraged by the trailer park manager’s actions. Klein said, “There is no reason to deny them food that is available. We are not asking the park to give us money. We are not asking the park to give us food. This woman (the manager) is over there telling lies — she’s saying that we get $50 dollars a box for food. We don’t get anything. Those people that drive around in their vehicles, they pay their own gas.”

Another resident, Mary Ann Jett, recently lost her husband and told the Bradenton Herald that “the stress of the last two weeks has affected my physical being” because the mobile home park’s owner is trying to take away her ability to take care of herself.

Between the efforts of Meals on Wheels PLUS, a senior citizen advocate, Christie Castro, and 8 On Your Side, the situation finally improved but not before the fight was taken all the way to lawmakers and county commissioners based in the the Florida capital of Tallahassee.

According to Christie, and after numerous phone calls, emails and negotiations with manager at Carlyn Estates, the two finally reached a resolution after a three-hour marathon meeting. Christie said the manager claimed volunteers had been sorting the food in each driveway but as long as that stopped, she agreed to a speedy delivery when residents get their food on Tuesdays.

Though this incident may have occurred in Florida, it is important to note that is could happen anywhere. Helpful neighbors, community advocates and involved family members are vital resources to helping seniors not only maintain their independence but also to provide support and assistance when there is a problem.

Services such as Meals on Wheels are extremely helpful but remember, there are some criteria the must be met before receiving Meal on Wheels meals. You should consult your local branch to determine if you or your family member is eligible. In general, hot meals are provided between five and seven days a week to people over age 60, who are home bound or disabled and unable to prepare a nutritious meal at home.

If the time has come when your aging loved one is no longer able to live independently, please contact the knowledgeable staff at ElderLink to help you find elder care services or an assisted living facility within California that is customized for your family.