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Buy fresh produce, help feed a local senior

Mark Parker

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Dozens of elderly residents recently lined up outside the Sunshine Center in downtown St. Petersburg to receive a box of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.

Saving Our Seniors already serves about 14,000 people monthly, and the woman behind the initiative plans to double its community impact. Starting April 6, the local nonprofit will donate an additional Produce PAC (people assisting community) for each box purchased.

Kelli Casto, founder and CEO, said the program would support her mission to buy, give away and deliver fresh, nutritional food. The goal is to serve 28,000 seniors on fixed incomes monthly.

“Physicians and insurance companies are saying food is important, but then they don’t give them the right access,” Casto said. “We truly value our seniors that have paved the way for so many of us.”

Tom Jordan, one of the elderly residents able to line up at the Sunshine Center, noted that grocery prices are “out of this world.” Many seniors must navigate soaring living costs on just $900 monthly.

Jordan became emotional when asked to describe the Produce Pac program’s benefits. “You might think eight items is not much, but those eight items help out tremendously,” he said.

“And I thank them,” Jordan added. “They always have a great attitude – because they want to help us.”

Seniors line up outside the Sunshine Center to receive Produce Pacs.

Accessibility is the cornerstone of Casto’s efforts. Selling the Produce PACs will allow her to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to home-bound seniors.

It will also provide more produce to those who pick up boxes from area community centers. The nonprofit started its fresh market initiative in 2020.

Saving Our Seniors (SOS) does not offer donated food “because I value my freshness,” Casto said. She purchases the produce from trusted distributors in Tampa, as personally traveling to regional farms is impractical.

However, Casto does drive hundreds of miles daily to meet seniors “where they are.” She created SOS in 2016 to collect, offer and deliver discounted medical equipment.

Casto, an occupational therapist, recognized that seniors hoping to age in place lacked medical equipment needed to maintain their health and independence. She launched SOS from a one-bedroom apartment.

Casto also used her personal vehicle to deliver the much-needed medical equipment to seniors earning less than $1,500 monthly. She now has two trucks and a donated 2,500-square-foot warehouse.

Picking up fresh produce from the Sunshine Center allows seniors to utilize the city-owned facility’s myriad wraparound services. “The people behind me come every week that we’re here, and they’re just so thankful,” Casto said.

“They feel appreciated because we’re not handing them food that is donated,” she added. “We’re handing them out purchased produce. They value our charity as we value them.”

Saving Our Seniors will deliver a free Produce PAC for every box purchased.

However, funding is critical to continue meeting the need. Casto explained many “forgotten” middle income seniors do not qualify for food programs but still need assistance.

She said the organization’s farmer’s market, food giveaways and delivery services can “fill that much-needed gap.” In 2016, Casto thought, “How hard can it be” to launch a nonprofit?

She now realizes obtaining the funding necessary to further her mission is a substantial challenge. “I think Produce PAC is the answer to our prayers,” Casto said.

“Individuals in the community that want to give back but just don’t have the time can get healthy vegetables and, in return, feed a senior.”

Customers can choose from a small or large, customizable Produce PAC. SOS then delivers the food to the purchaser and a low-income senior weekly.

People can also donate to the program. A $75 gift provides five Produce PACs, and Casto is looking for corporate sponsors – like credit unions, home improvement contractors and healthcare providers – to showcase on eco-friendly grocery bags.

She also hopes to partner with condominium associations in downtown St. Petersburg. Casto said that would streamline the delivery process and exponentially increase the program’s impact.

“They (SOS) need all the help they can get,” Jordan said. “They have big hearts.”

For more information on Produce PAC, visit the website here.

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Andrew Newell

    March 31, 2024at12:18 pm

    Magnificent!A BEAUTIFUL mind to share!

  2. Avatar

    Kari

    March 30, 2024at10:50 am

    Thank you to this organization and their hard working volunteers! Keep up the great work!

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