Located on the Gulf Coast, Sarasota County, Florida is home to about 415,000 people —roughly 56,000 in the city of Sarasota. The county has a median age of 56.5—one of the highest concentrations of older residents in the country, with 27 percent aged 65 or older. It joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2015. Its age-friendly initiative is called Age-Friendly Sarasota.
“Ensuring that residents have easy access to relevant information has been critical throughout this event,” says Susan Firestone, Aging System Policy Coordinator of Sarasota County Health and Human Services. “We also expected an increased need for feeding and hydration services, so we prioritized meal delivery services for older residents,” she adds.
Sarasota County Health and Human Services quickly launched a COVID-19 resource page. It provides handy access to guidelines from the state, revised bus schedules, park and beach closings, information on businesses, heat maps of COVID-19 cases by zip-code and a digital library of other useful resources. The county also set up a text alert system that residents can sign up to receive regular safety updates.
In March, Sarasota County’s Office of Emergency Management—working with Age-Friendly Sarasota, other government agencies, social service providers, and other community partners—announced a comprehensive plan to provide adequate food for vulnerable populations. It prioritizes meal delivery for homebound residents and seniors living alone without transportation, as well as finding sites for serving meals to people experiencing homelessness.
Sarasota County has approved the use of county-owned vehicles to deliver meals. Senior Friendship Centers, the county’s leading provider of services to older residents, converted its congregate dining program to home delivery and streamlined its assessment process to more easily accommodate new clients.
The need for meals each week is mapped by the planning team based on the latest information from service providers such as All Faiths Food Bank, Senior Friendship Centers , and Meals on Wheels. The team also keeps track of SNAP and unemployment applications by zip-code.
The Results, Thus Far
“Our partners and the community are all working very well together,” Firestone reports. “Through successful communication and coordination, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of meals provided and have been able to meet the needs of our community.”
A full-length interview is available on AARP.org/Livable at this link.
Reporting, writing and editing by AARP (Shoshana Preuss, Melissa Stanton, Jay Walljasper, Mike Watson)
This story is being shared as part of the AARP-NLC COVID-19 Older Adult Response Initiative.