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New funding to help address poverty in Leon County

Posted at 6:31 PM, Jul 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-05 18:31:53-04

According to a recent report from the United Way of the Big Bend, 51% of households in Leon County are within poverty and ALICE thresholds; meaning people who are employed but make less than the cost of living. But new funding is working to reduce that number.

$1.38 million from United Way of the Big Bend is going to 25 programs throughout Leon County in areas that help with housing, early learning, safety net, health and mental health and skills development.

One of those programs is Elder Care Services' Meals on Wheels. Volunteer Carlos Amado has been bringing meals to seniors for about three years now.

"I get to see about a dozen elderly persons and their doing fine, they just can't cook for themselves but they can pretty much walk and I'm just glad to give them the food," said Amado.

CEO and President Jocelyne Fliger said the program currently serves about 200 seniors every day in Leon County; a number that's gone up since the pandemic.

The $55,000 grant will allow them to meet that growing need, but Fliger said it'll also help keep more seniors living at home.

"It's a daily wellness check and we're really trying to not only address senior nutrition in their homes but also trying to break down social isolation barriers," said Fliger.

Another program getting funding is ReFire Culinary; an eight week culinary, job training program for people who were formerly incarcerated. Executive Director Rebecca Kelly-Manders said the $50,000 grant they're receiving is about 45% of the programs overall budget.

"Providing them with the books they need, the uniforms they need, the professional knife kit when they graduate that they get to keep as well as a small stipend to help cover minor expenses while they're in the program in between getting here and getting employed," said Kelly-Manders.

Kelly-Manders said the new funding will help 25 students go through the program for free, but they do more than just cook.

"It's not just a culinary training program," said Kelly-Manders. "We're working on soft skills, life skills, we have an MSW on staff that helps with finding resources for transportation, for child care, for housing, mental health."

President and CEO of United Way of the Big Bend Berneice Cox believes funding community programs like these will help people break the cycle of poverty.

"It'll be an opportunity for them to provide for themselves and their families," said Cox. "They can get the skills, to get the job, to be able then to have the kind of income that will really hopefully lift them out of poverty and also lift them out of the ALICE population."

Cox said it's not just Leon County receiving new funding. United Way of the big Bend is funding 79 programs throughout surrounding counties like Gadsden, Jefferson and Wakulla too. She said those programs will start to receive funding on July 15th.