Listening to and learning about the needs of our community requires building trusting relationships and being a partner during difficult times. Our Community Care programs include Emergency Needs & Disaster Relief, Providing Stability, addressing Health & Hunger, providing care for Animals and the Environment, and Placemaking through housing, transportation & economic support.
The following are some recent examples of initiatives and support provided to enhance our community:
Emergency Needs & Disaster Relief
The 2020 US Census revealed that nearly 10 percent of Sarasota County residents live in poverty. Of those residents, the majority are families with children.
In Sarasota County, 52 percent of school-age children qualify for free or reduced lunch, meaning they and their families live at or below the federal poverty rate. In surrounding counties those rates are even higher with Manatee County schoolchildren at 70 percent, Charlotte County at 86 percent, and DeSoto County at 99 percent, according to Florida Impact to End Hunger. (The statewide average is 68 percent.)
Since 2011, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County has provided emergency funds to Sarasota County Schools to enable individual school administrators and teachers to help children with one-time, immediate needs like shoes, school uniforms, eyeglasses, or school supplies through the Student Emergency Fund.
We also maintain a Disaster Relief Fund to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical treatments, or other critical supports for people and animals following natural disasters such as hurricanes.
Stable, safe housing is critical to individuals and families, but renting or owning a home in our area is a challenge for many. In 2021, the median income for Sarasota County increased $41 a month, while the monthly market rate increased by $220.66, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). United Way Suncoast Region estimates that 43 percent of households in our region struggle financially despite working hard, but still being unable to make ends meet, especially when an unexpected crisis comes.
For 22 years through Season of Sharing, we have raised and distributed more than $30 million to more than 38,000 households so that they can remain in their home when an emergency strikes. By making payments directly to landlords, utilities, child care providers, and auto repair shops, Season of Sharing invites neighbors to help neighbors in need, and provides a critical safety net for household of all ages and makeups.
Health & Hunger
Healthy bodies and healthy minds go hand in hand. In Sarasota County nearly 10 percent of our residents live in poverty according to the US Census, Manatee County and Charlotte counties at 11 percent, and DeSoto County 26 percent. We know poverty impacts immediate physical needs (such as reduced access to food), and exposes people, especially children, to potential long-term mental health trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, we supported mental health therapists for children in Sarasota County Schools, first at a pilot site elementary school in partnership with The Florida Center for Early Childhood Development. When it was established that the services were needed, accessed, and effective, the program was expanded to 18 additional schools through state funding.
To help adults access healthcare, we also support nonprofit organizations providing access to healthcare and human services. Since Fall 2020, we have provided more than $1 million to 47 nonprofit organizations each serving one or several populations: geographically underserved neighborhoods, communities of color, immigrants, refugees, and English language learners, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ communities, and single mothers, among others.
There are more than 128 nonprofit organizations providing care and services for animals and their caretakers in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties, according to The Giving Partner.
We strengthen organizations that serve domestic and rescue animals by supporting medical needs and veterinary treatment, foster programs, and facility maintenance through an annual competitive grant cycle. Since 2019, more than half-a-million dollars have been provided to provide care for animal welfare.
The natural wonder of our beaches, forests, and rivers attracts many to our region. In Sarasota County alone, we have 35 miles of beaches, five state parks and lands of more than 60,000 acres, and many more regional and municipally managed public spaces.
As our region continues to welcome new residents, we are supporting many approaches to conserving our environment.
Through Partners for Green Places, nonprofits serving our community learn about sustainability and greener practices, receive a no-cost audit of energy and water consumption, and find support for energy mitigation projects.
We also invest in solar and green energy investments that double as teaching opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders. A pilot program is underway with Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to marry their forthcoming solar array as a launching pad for a new curriculum and career path program for local students. At the collegiate level, we support a paid internship that matches young adults with nonprofits to explore careers through the Environmental Discovery Awards Program.
A community is defined by how we live, play, and work. Currently, housing is one of our area’s most pressing needs, and income is a driving factor impacting our community. According to the US Census, the median family income in Sarasota County is $80,438, with Manatee County following at $73,429, Charlotte County at $63,887, and DeSoto County at $42,784.
We supported a variety of different affordable housing models in partnership with local nonprofit organizations. Supported projects of note are Lofts on Lemon, a new complex in downtown Sarasota operated by the Sarasota Housing Authority; Harvest House, a family transitional housing program focused on self-sufficiency; Habitat for Humanity Sarasota’s Hammock Place community of 40 single-family homes; a foster care transitional housing program with CASL for young adults; and in Venice, Family Promise of South Sarasota County’s Pathways Home program.