by MEGAN HUSSEY
In addition to her usual daily duties at The Main Street Eatery in Brooksville, owner Peggy Bell has taken on a few extra meal deliveries as of late. More than 100 on a typical day, to be precise; free and highly nutritious meals delivered across the county to Hernando seniors–served with a smile and with no delivery fees attached.
“It’s so heartwarming to see how happy they are when you bring them the food,” said Bell. “They say, ‘We’re so glad you’re here.'”
Bell and a small, revolving crew of about four people run mornings, afternoons and into the evenings in their quest to alleviate the food anxiety of financially challenged, sometimes homebound seniors in the time of COVID-19–providing not only custom-ordered deliveries but curbside to-go orders as well.
And in their effort to help one of the state’s most vulnerable populations, the Main Street crew is not working alone. Their efforts are funded by a program made possible through a partnership with Brooksville-based Mid Florida Community Services, Inc.
“This is about getting seniors fed at this difficult time. The need is great, and we needed a way to get the food out there,” said Steve Homan, director of senior services at Mid Florida Community Services, Inc. “We also wanted to support the local economies of our service area–the Mom and Pop restaurants.”
This mission got a substantial boost when Mid Florida Community Services, Inc., received a $2 million meal funding grant from the Families First Act and the CARES Act, passed by Congress to allow “local service providers, such as Mid Florida Community Services, Inc. (MFCS), to serve more meals to hungry, low-income seniors over the age of 60 who are in need or are homebound because of COVID-19.”
Armed with these funds, MFCS conceived the MFCS Senior Services Restaurant Initiative Program; partnering with restaurants in their service area to feed seniors in need. These eateries are Main Street Eatery in Hernando County, Black and Brew Coffee House and Bistro in Lakeland to represent Polk County and Naples Italian Restaurant in the Leesburg community of Lake County.
“This has not only been a big win for our seniors but also for the local economy as it has helped put people back to work,” read a related MFCS news release.
In accepting grant funds, restaurant delivery drivers received background checks and safety training, along with personal protective equipment. They were advised to exercise social distancing measures during deliveries of meals custom-designed for their nutritional content.
“We wanted to keep the money in the community,” said Homan. “And the seniors send us so many thank yous–they love the fresh food.”
Homan cites Main Street as a leader in the program.
“All hats off to Main Street,” said Homan. “They are a leader in the program, and Peggy has joined her delivery drivers in bringing the meals to seniors in the community.”
Bell had no hesitation about hosting the meal program at Main Street Eatery.
“It helps citizens,” she said. “It helps the local community.”
In addition, the meal program also gave her the opportunity to work once again with Michael Georgini, CEO of MFCS, an organization she greatly respects. Mid Florida Community Services, Inc., is a member of the National Community Action Partnership and the Community Action Network, which according to a related news release, “is a member of the National Community Action Partnership and the Community Action Network, which was born out of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Mid Florida Community Services, Inc.’s, mission is to strengthen partnerships, mobilize resources, and provide integrated services that promote self-sufficiency for individuals and families in the communities in which they live.”
After compiling a senior menu consisting of healthy soups, salads, and sandwiches, she hired and handpicked a small group of delivery people to aid her with safe deliveries–as well as preparing curbside to-go orders.
Bell says that, currently, a waiting list has been established for those who wish to sign up for the MFCS Senior Services Restaurant Initiative Program in Hernando. She encourages those interested to register with MFCS at 352-796-1426 before contacting the restaurant.
Bell hopes to continue the program just as long as the seniors of Hernando are in need of Main Street meals.
“There’s no way I would say no to this program.”