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Fresh off a fiscal year during which St. Pete Free Clinic (SPFC) distributed a record 20.4 million pounds of food throughout Pinellas County to address rising food insecurity, the organization is poised to push through the holiday season and into a new year responding to ongoing increased demand for basic needs.
Over the last year, the cost of housing, groceries, healthcare, transportation and daycare have increased by double-digit percentage points, making the basics unaffordable for Pinellas County’s “asset limited-income constrained-employed,” or ALICE population (a coin termed by the United Way), a population that was already living paycheck to paycheck pre-Covid. Inflation coupled with wage stagnation, which widely persists even amid labor shortages, means that many individuals and families are facing impossible choices like paying their increased rent or putting food on the table.
To meet sharply increased and persistent community needs, SPFC has significantly stepped up its efforts to provide nutritious food for triple as many Pinellas County residents as it was pre-Covid, as well as has increased by more than a third its number of new patients being seen in the organization’s Health Center, which provides primary care, dental care and no-cost prescription medication for uninsured adults.
Just two years ago, SPFC, which also operates one of the county’s largest food banks, distributed 11.3 million pounds of food throughout St. Petersburg and surrounding areas. Now, distributing double as much food, thanks to increased funding from the Juvenile Welfare Board (JWB), SPFC leaders do not see a slowdown coming any time soon.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2021, hourly wages in the US increased by 3.6%. However, current rates of inflation gave the average worker a 2% pay cut. The reality is that nearly 50% of our neighbors in Pinellas County – our teachers, baristas, hospital support professionals, security guards, restaurant servers – work hard every day, sometimes holding more than one job, and still have to make tough choices each month, like whether to pay the utility bill or put gas in the car to get to work.
SPFC wants to be sure our neighbors don’t need to make those kinds of choices. We provide nutritious food, no-cost prescription drug support, healthcare and housing for those recovering from substance use, to help people fill gaps, stay healthy, and ease the stress of untenable circumstances.
JWB CEO Beth Houghton shared, “Families were struggling before Covid, but the pandemic has created a tsunami of unprecedented need. Ensuring children have adequate and nourishing food is one of our top priorities. Without it, they cannot learn, grow, or thrive, and their physical and mental health suffers. The JWB Board understands this, and has supported increased investments to ensure no Pinellas child goes hungry.”
JWB provides funding for Pinellas nonprofits, including SPFC, who serve tens of thousands of children and their families annually. Over the past two years, JWB’s investments and collective efforts, through the Pinellas Childhood Hunger Initiative, have provided five million nourishing meals to children.
In addition to expansions in its distribution of nutritious food, prescription support and healthcare, because of an unexpected and sizable donation, SPFC is gearing up to deliver major relief to women in need of feminine hygiene products and families who need diapers. Considered “luxury items,” feminine hygiene products have become so unaffordable that women and girls often skip school or work because they do not have these products on hand and cannot afford to acquire them.
Further, the increased cost of diapers means that one in three families cannot access this basic need for their infants and toddlers. No diapers means no capability to drop children off at daycare, which means a parent skips work and skips getting paid.
It’s an impossible cycle. The cost of basics like feminine hygiene and diapers contribute to women not being able to join or re-join the workforce, yet if they’re not able to secure and maintain employment that pays them a living wage, they continue not to be able to afford these critical supports, let alone put groceries on the table or pay their rent.
With the support of generous donors, funders like the Juvenile Welfare Board, and other community partners, SPFC is prepared to steadily serve Pinellas County’s neighbors in need during the holiday season and beyond.
For more information about SPFC or to donate to our Give Hope campaign, please visit www.thespfc.org
Jennifer Yeagley, M.A., is the CEO for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, having joined the organization in March 2020. Prior to stepping into this role, she was Vice President for Administrative & Strategic Operations for Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services.