Winter Park PD looks to help feed local seniors

A special program organized by the WPPD works to help feed those seniors in need.

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  • | 3:29 p.m. August 17, 2017
Officer Javier Rodriguez, of the Winter Park Police Department, has been leading the Seniors 1st/Helping Others Program, ensuring that seniors and families in need don’t go without food.
Officer Javier Rodriguez, of the Winter Park Police Department, has been leading the Seniors 1st/Helping Others Program, ensuring that seniors and families in need don’t go without food.
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Once a month, he plays the role of a Santa Claus-type figure — except he wears blue instead of red and delivers food and not toys.

The badge on his chest reads, “Winter Park Police Department,” but he has become more than just a police officer — he’s become a man of charity.

For the past two years, Officer Javier Rodriguez, a community services officer, has been at the forefront in collecting food for emergency pantries at Tranquil Terrace Apartments and Plymouth Apartments.

“It was the 2015 holiday season — that’s when it came about that we noticed there was a senior community (Plymouth Apartments) that were in need,” Rodriguez said. “The community adviser there reached out and said, ‘We have an emergency food pantry that goes without food on a monthly basis, would you be able to help out?’ So during that holiday season, we were able to do that, and we began the program.”

That eventually went on to become the Seniors 1st Program and has become a staple for Rodriguez and the department. It was a good fit for Rodriguez, who also serves as a community service officer in the Community Services division, where he acts as a liaison between the community and department. Rodriguez has been with the department for 18 of his 21 years in service.

Since officially starting the program last April, Rodriguez and the department have received donations every month from local organizations such as St. John Lutheran Church, the First Baptist Church of Winter Park and from residents looking to lend a helping hand.

“Every month, we have been able to have our community provide food for this emergency pantry at the Plymouth Apartments, and if it wasn’t for our community helping out, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Rodriguez said. “We are thankful to be a platform or a segue to help the community.”

Although the original idea started out to simply help Plymouth Apartments, Tranquil Terrace — another senior living complex — was added recently. With more mouths to feed, the need for donations is becoming greater, Rodriguez said.

Throughout the the month, the department collects donations, before stocking the emergency pantry with food on the third week each month. The program alternates between Plymouth and Tranquil Terrace. Choosing the third week of the month became a coordinated effort once Rodriguez realized it was the time of the month during which residents needed food the most.

“The first week, most seniors get Social Security, and they do OK,” he said. “(The) second week, they have Second Harvest come into their communities. Then the third week, we are noticing that that’s when we start seeing the food deficiencies, so that’s where we step in and we try to provide that. That will give them enough for the third and fourth week and then the cycle starts all over again.”

Last year, the program helped feed 300 families.

Like most programs that help to feed the hungry, Rodriguez said the best type of foods to give is canned items that keep longer.

“Usually canned food, cereals, vegetable soups, canned meats, anything that is non-perishable is best for us to supply to them,” Rodriguez said. “Because at least they have a great shelf life.”

Although the program is currently serving seniors, Rodriguez is looking at shifting it to incorporate seniors and families in general within the community and changing the name to the Helping Others Program.

“It’s overwhelming, and it’s the satisfaction of helping your community,” Rodriguez said of the pride he has about the program. “That moment when a senior comes up and tells you ‘thank you’ for bringing them food, it’s just … there are no words.”


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