What does hunger look like in Lakeland? Chances are, it may not be as obvious as one may think. 

In Polk County, 15 percent of residents are food “insecure,” a term the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses to describe those who do not have access to enough nutritional food to live a healthy lifestyle. That’s one reason why Publix Super Markets Charities has made feeding the hungry a priority, donating another $5 million to a variety of non-profit, school-based, and other organizations working to get nutritious foods in the hands of those who need it.

“It’s vitally important for us as a food retailer — it’s the biggest single impact we can make,” said Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous. The charities’ arm of the supermarket chain, headquartered along the Polk Parkway in Lakeland, has donated $17 million over the past four years to help feed the hungry in the seven states in which it operates.

As with other donations, a $5 million offering which was announced earlier this month continues to fulfill the mission that Publix founder George Jenkins instilled in the company’s employees when he opened his first store in Winter Haven 88 years ago. That’s even more important today as Agape, the primary food bank in Polk County, closed in December 2017, leaving Feed Tampa Bay — the nearest Feed America food bank — to serve local agencies. Feed America is the largest recipient of the Publix donation.

As Publix employees visited some of the more than 250 agencies that received money on Thursday, August 9, they hoped to raise awareness about hunger in America. “We want to show people what hunger looks like,” Brous said.

Publix Charities Executive Director Kelly Puccio said Publix and Publix Charities understand how important food and proper nutrition are to people. “Our foundation is dedicated to giving nourishment and hope to our communities.”

According to Feed America, only 19 percent of people living in Polk County in 2016 made more than 200 percent above the poverty line at that time (in 2016, the poverty level for a family of four was $24,300). That means more than half a million people fell below that same marker and could have received federal nutritional assistance from programs such as SNAP,  the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps).

Publix also helps feed the hungry in another way. During the spring and fall of every year, it holds its Food for Sharing fundraiser, giving shoppers and employees a chance to donate in varying, set amounts in the checkout lanes. Through this fundraiser, the company has donated nearly $70 million.

Mr. George once said, ““We’re not only in the grocery business, we’re in the people business.” It’s clear his legacy lives on as Publix helps those in need.