The face of food insecurity wears many masks. It may be your neighbor across the street, the little kid in the crosswalk that waves to you each morning on your commute, or the elderly lady so readily eager to give you smile as you pass her walking her dog.
One in eight Tampa Bay residents face its threat, according to the 2023 Tampa Bay State of the Region Report. Food insecurity is the lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
It’s much more than going without a meal, or several meals. Those who are food insecure face threats to their health from chronic disease like diabetes, increased heart disease, and kidney issues.
To make matters worse, food insecurity’s threats of malnutrition and chronic disease also perpetuate a cycle of economic health that hinders its victim from climbing out of their insecurity. When faced with food insecurity, people lose opportunities for employment and educational successes.
Bridging the gap from insecurity to health relies upon local nonprofits and generous philanthropists. The Mary Petro Fund for Food and Medicine, a fund held at Community Foundation Tampa Bay, creates philanthropic partnerships with groups that provide for our community’s residents greatest needs.
The Mary Petro Fund for Food and Medicine provides critical services to Sun City Center and Kings Point residents in the Southshore area of Hillsborough County by partnering with Sun City Center United Methodist Church. Church staff and volunteers, through the generous support of the Fund, connect residents who qualify for food and medicine assistance with community partners that provide critical needs and services.
Mission Tampa is one of the philanthropic partners that Mary Petro Fund for Food and Medicine taps for dental care for uninsured and under-resourced residents. Twice a year, Mission Smile rolls to the rescue by providing critical and much needed dental care for residents who qualify.
“The partnership between the Mary Petro Fund and Mission Smile allows an additional critical need to be addressed,” says Dr. Katie Shultz, Senior Director of Community Investments. “Supporting an individual’s dental health often leads to improved mental health through a decrease in chronic pain or discomfort and an increase in self-esteem.”
Founded in 2011, Mission Tampa launched the Mission Smile Mobile Dental Clinic, which offers free emergency dental care for those who financially qualify. The state-of-the-art mobile dentist office is staffed by four volunteer dentists and over 20 dental hygienists who use the truck’s two dental chairs to provide more than 300 volunteer hours per year.
Over the past year, Mission Smile the ability to provide dental services to 320 patients working with Madeline Hughes and the Sun City United Methodist Church. Those services include more than 160 oral cleanings and over $186,000 in donated dental procedures, like tooth extractions, fillings and more.
“Working with Madeline Hughes at the Sun Center City Methodist Church has been a godsend for Mission Smile,” said Kathy McGartland, Mission Smile program director for Mission Tampa. “It’s the smiles after we help these patients that fulfill the Mission Smile mission and makes my heart happy.”
Prior to Mission Smile, McGartland worked in Sun City Center as a dental hygienist for more than twenty years, often seeing the effects of what dental neglect can do to a patient. Hughes is a part-time staff member at the Sun City United Methodist Church whose salary is paid for by the Mary Petro Fund for Food and Medicine. Ms. Hughes’s role is to coordinate resources for Sun City Center and Kings Point residents.
“This is a mission of love,” says McGartland. “We show our love by really focusing on dental cleanings and the emergency dental services these patients are in dire need of. Many of our patients have shunned the dentist and dental care for years. We are providing them care that gives them confidence and peace of mind.”
The Mary Petro Fund for Food and Medicine’s impact goes well beyond healthcare, it impacts hearts and lives. A Mission Smile patient’s words says it all:
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for helping me in so many ways. You did all the ground work and paved the way for me to get some long-needed dental work. Everyone who drove me, greeted me, escorted me, or worked on me could not have been kinder or more helpful. I appreciate each and every one of them. Although I am still not over the pain, and far from healed, the fact that it has been done is a miracle to me. I am looking forward to being able to smile again.
Read more about the Mary Petro Fund for Food and Medicine in The Observer News.