Influencing Lakeland’s culture of generosity since 1966

Photography by Tiffany Jones

A few weeks ago, my best friends, Ashlea and Alex, came from Atlanta to spend the weekend with me in Lakeland. Ashlea, a Tallahassee native, lived here for several years after graduating from Florida Southern College. Alex, on the other hand, had never been to Lakeland before. Ashlea and I were more than excited to show him all of our favorite places.
We began the tour of our city in my neighborhood, the Parker Street neighborhood, and told him how Parker Street Ministries and the city of Lakeland are working together to better the community. From there, we drove to the Lakeland Downtown Farmers Curb Market, passing Lighthouse Ministries, Salvation Army, and Talbot House on the way. We talked about how some neighboring cities send their homeless citizens to Lakeland because we have so many programs and services to help them. While we walked around the Farmers Market, we ran into friends, struck up conversations with other Lakelanders, and enjoyed the spirit of community that culminates in our gathering spaces. We showed Alex Munn Park, where, in college, Ashlea and I spent many Sunday afternoons giving away sandwiches to people who were hungry. We gazed at Lake Hollingsworth and told Alex about the many runs, races, and walks that raise money for worthy causes. We told story after story about the memories we made and the cool places to see in Lakeland. And, of course, we told him about our great Publix stores and the role they play in this community. (Obviously, a tour of Lakeland wouldn’t be complete without mention that our very own Southgate Publix had a cameo in the
classic film, Edward Scissorhands.)
While I was sure Alex would think Lakeland was a nice place to live, I wasn’t certain how impressed he would be or how it would stand up to Atlanta, the city in which he lived. What I wasn’t prepared for was his quick arrival at the truth. As we walked around Lake Mirror, Alex said, “Lakeland is a really great place. You guys do a lot of good here.”
Ashlea and I understood this about Lakeland, but this has been our home. We got involved; we built community here. However, Alex had been in town for less than a day and he could already see the character of Lakeland. When he said we do a lot of good here, he wasn’t speaking to the truth that we do a lot of things well, instead he noticed how quick Lakelanders are to help. Our city is unique in its attitude toward others; it has a culture of giving back that has been cultivated and stewarded by passionate citizens for many years. To understand where this culture comes from, one only has to look to one of Lakeland’s most influential legacies, George Jenkins.

Many Lakelanders know his name and that he is the man behind Publix, but what they don’t realize is the scope of George Jenkins’ philanthropic spirit. His idea of generosity has created the giving spirit that defines Lakeland’s culture, making this a unique community.
In 1966, Mr. George founded the George Jenkins Foundation. Soon after, however, he changed the name to Publix Super Markets Charities so that it could live on well after he was gone. Today, Publix supports more than 10,000 organizations in the six states that are home to Publix stores. Through the generosity of his extended family, Publix Supermarket Charities, and individual Publix stores, Lakeland’s culture perpetuates and advances. Publix Super Markets Charities matches its employees’ giving to the United Way every year. Together, in 2013, Publix and its associates gave over $50 million back to Publix’s communities. Publix is also currently ranked third in United Way global giving, beating out companies like GE and IBM (UnitedWay.org). Publix does not stop at donating to the United Way, though. There are countless donations made through Publix stores; stores individually participate in numerous drives every year, including Tools for Back to School, Feeding America, Food for All, Special Olympics, and March of Dimes. Through these initiatives Publix has given over $100 million back to its communities over the years. This remarkable $150 million plus does not include the many gift cards given to thousands of food pantries and grassroots organizations across the Southeast, nor does it include contributions made through Publix Super Market Charities. When Mr. George opened his first grocery store in 1930, I wonder if he ever thought he would make a difference of such magnitude.

WHEN MR. GEORGE OPENED HIS FIRST GROCERY STORE IN 1930, I WONDER IF HE EVER THOUGHT HE WOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE OF SUCH MAGNITUDE.

Publix focuses its giving efforts on two main issues: youth education (specifically literacy), and hunger and homelessness. Many Lakelandbased charitable organizations also tackle these issues and work tirelessly to ameliorate them. Organizations like Parker Street Ministries, Lighthouse Ministries, and Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine started out the same way
Publix did — as a bold idea and with a lot of passion. Now, thanks in large part to Publix’s generosity, these organizations are able to serve more people and make bigger impacts than ever before. Of the 10,000 nonprofits that Publix supports, many are small, grassroots organizations like Answered Prayer Ministries and ElderPoint Ministries. Organizations such as these are inspired and affected by The George Effect, a legacy of giving that provides sustainable growth that lasts far beyond a check in the bank.

ANSWERED PRAYER MINISTRIES

Richard Spinks has worked for Publix for over 20 years and is no stranger to their spirit of giving.
“I do a lot of work with ‘Hurricane Water’ here,” Spinks says. “Publix makes sure there’s plenty of water when there’s a storm. It’s not a big moneymaker for Publix, but they want to make sure our community is provided for. That attitude is represented in the people at work too. I remember when Hurricane Andrew hit and everyone would bring stuff into work to send down. We loaded up trucks upon trucks of supplies.”
Ten years ago Spinks and his wife were inspired to doing something to help their community. They began helping to run a basketball league at their church, and even though they weren’t sports people, they clearly saw the benefit of the league. Their experience with this league sparked a servant mentality within them. Since then they have embraced the
opportunity to serve their community.
In 2010, the Spinks started volunteering with a group called The Gathering that gave food and clothes to the homeless community in Lakeland. Richard was particularly moved by an experience early on. “One night I gave a guy a hot dog and he offered to share his own potato chips out of his bag. I was giving of my wealth of time and he was sharing with me the very little that he had.” Soon after this experience, The Gathering chose to go in a different direction, but Richard and his wife wouldn’t give up. They started storing clothes and food in their own home. When they outgrew their space they rented classrooms at Lakewood Church off of Combee Road. When their initiative first began, they distributed food and clothing one night per month. Now, they serve the community four Fridays a month. They see over 1,000 people per month in Lakeland and Bartow. At at the corner of Main Street and Combee Road in Lakeland they see up to 300 people each week. In 2012, the Spinks became incorporated as Answered Prayer Ministries so that it would be easier to receive donations.
Richard’s day job is just down the hall from Publix Super Market Charities. “We’re just now getting our paperwork in,” he says. “Knowing that a company is willing to help us help others makes all the difference. It gives me faith in corporate America. Not all companies are about the money, and that’s encouraging.”

ELDPERPOINT MINISTRIES

When Jane Hammond became the director of ElderPoint Ministries, she had a staff of two: herself and one volunteer, a homeless drug addict who helped her make deliveries. “He helped me because he needed a way to stay out of trouble,” she says.
At the time, food delivery was only a small part of ElderPoint Ministries’ greater mission to serve the elderly in Polk County. However, when people saw the deliveries being made, they wanted to know how they could get food too. Jane asked her volunteer how they were going to serve all these people that needed food, and he responded, “They’re hungry. We need to do that.” And, the food pantry at ElderPoint
Ministries was born.
When the food pantry launched they had only one set of metal shelves; now, they serve close to 1,000 families per week. ElderPoint is different from other food ministries in that ElderPoint allows its visitors to “shop” for their groceries. Clients choose what they like from a respectable array of options instead of picking up a prepacked box. “The people choose what they want and it [allows them to keep their dignity],” Hammond says.
Four days a week, the food pantry operates out of St. David’s Episcopal Church on Edgewood Drive. On Wednesdays, they make food deliveries all over Lakeland. As the need is great, they hope to expand to do more in the near future. Additional deliveries would allow the ministry to reach their clients who have transportation challenges or who are homebound.
Several years ago Lake Miriam Publix helped collect 18,000 pounds of food for ElderPoint Ministries in one day, and through the years Publix has contributed to the ministry’s cause in numerous ways. When I asked about ElderPoint Ministries’ relationship with Publix, Hammond was adamant that they wouldn’t be where they were without Publix’s help. “We couldn’t begin to do what we do without Publix,” she says. “A lot of what we [give away] comes from Publix and a lot of our [financial support] comes from Publix.”