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Florida's Largest Health Insurer Is Looking For Local Ideas To Stop Food Insecurity

Fresh green limes and red tomatoes in bins at a farmer's market.
Lisa Williams/Flikr

More than 2.8 million Floridians are unable to access affordable, healthy food in their community, according to Feeding America.

Florida Blue's parent company, GuideWell, is issuing a challenge to both organizations and individuals: submit a proposal that could lessen or end hunger in their own backyard.

Kirstie McCool, executive director for GuideWell Innovation, said it'll empower communities to address their unique needs instead of relying on state and federal initiatives.

Click here for Feeding America’s Florida county-by-county breakdown of food insecurity rates.

McCool says she favors the grassroots approach because Florida is a very diverse state.

"The issues around food insecurity in, let's say, Miami, are quite a bit different than some of the issues that are going on in rural North Florida."

Food insecurity is caused by things like under-employment, lack of access to healthy foods, limited transportation options or unexpected expenses.

RELATED: How Food Insecurity May Harm 5-Year-Olds

“Many people have to make the difficult choice between paying the bills and buying food,” McCool said. “Florida is filled with creative innovators, entrepreneurs, community leaders and passionate citizens. We are issuing the food insecurity challenge to tap into their innovative minds to find the best solutions to make every Florida community food secure.”

McCool points to programs like the Trinity Café run by Feeding Tampa Bay, a free restaurant that serves the hungry 365 days a year and creates “full service, hunger relief solutions that begin around our table.”

Café sites include a prepared meal distribution program, food pantries, and SNAP registration.

McCool says the Florida Blue Foundation helped support Feeding Tampa Bay’s newest endeavor, a fresh produce pantry every Saturday outside of Trinity Cafe 2 on East Busch Boulevard.

McCool says programs like Trinity Café address specific needs in neighborhoods, cities and regions, instead of trying to apply blanket solutions that may not always work.

RELATED: Florida Matters Town Hall: Food Insecurity In Polk County

She say they are looking for “what other innovative ways can we really address this at a  block-by-block a hyperlocal level.”

“If the community comes together and bootstraps itself out of an economic disadvantage to situations, it tends to have a multiplier effect, and ultimately have a strong result in the community beginning to become self-sustainable, versus, say, a government agency or something else coming in just providing funding for folks to buy food or do things,” McCool said.

RELATED: Raised Gardens With A Purpose Are Cropping Up Across Central Florida: They’re Aimed At Tackling Food

The Block by Block Food Insecurity Challenge asks participants to address one of four primary areas:

·       Availability – Providing a reliable supply chain to increase availability, affordability and sustainability of the food supply to insecure communities.

·       Access – Improving accessibility in “food deserts” to fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy whole foods commonly found in large grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

·       Utilization – Properly educating and training families on healthy food alternatives, proper nutrition, reduction of food waste and preparation and storage of healthy foods to help build a strong relationship with fresh food.

·       Resilience – Mitigating and recovering from unexpected forces that impact a family’s access, utilization and availability to stable food sources such as weather, illness or economic loss.

The Block by Block Food Insecurity Challenge will split $40,000 among organizations with sustainable, innovative approaches for reducing or eliminating food insecurity in their local communities across Florida.

Promising applicants will be selected to compete in one of four regional pitch events taking place in Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami, Sept. 9-12. The top-three ideas from each region will be invited to a Food Insecurity Challenge statewide showcase on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the GuideWell Innovation Center in Orlando’s Lake Nona Medical City.

Additional information on the Block by Block Food Insecurity Challenge and a link to apply is available here. The deadline is Aug. 15.

Read WUSF's previous food insecurity coverage here

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.