The Agape Food Bank in Winter Haven shut its doors at the end of December.
But some charities believe the change may actually benefit those in need of food assistance in Polk County.
Catholic Charities operated the warehouse grocery for more than 30 years. Non-profit agencies that serve the needy would shop there for discounted food.
But the charity decided to offer healthier options, such as fresh meat and produce, and will open two smaller markets in the county. The locations for those markets has not yet been decided.
The Agape Food Bank closure left many of the charities in Polk County and part of Hardee County without an easy way to access cheap food. That caused a lot of concern among charities, especially given that the Lakeland/Winter Haven area has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation.
That’s where Feeding Tampa Bay stepped in. The Tampa-based food bank has offered five options for charities to access food:
- They will fill a tractor trailer with food and take it to a central location where several agencies can access it.
- They will drop food at local grocery stores and agencies can pick it up there.
- Agencies can shop for food at Feeding Tampa Bay’s warehouse in Tampa.
- Agencies can order dry goods online and they can either go to the Tampa warehouse to pick it up or have it delivered.
- Charities that are holding an outreach can get a one-time food drop for a standard fee.
Margaret Jones is with Heart for Winter Haven, which connects people in need with non-profits. She said charities were initially concerned about the change until they saw the plan from Feeding Tampa Bay.
“It gives them a greater opportunity to have better access to food, better planning for food and different types of food,” Jones said.
Feeding Tampa Bay has also offered to make nutritionists and grant specialists available to local agencies. The companies CEO met with charities to discuss the plan last month.
“Most people in the room were pleasantly surprised,” Jones said. “The concerns for the most part were alleviated.”
Feeding Tampa Bay supplied the Agape Food Bank with food, so the new plan removes the middle man, she said.
“What it means is a more robust way for the agencies to receive food,” Jones said.