Food insecurity, the unnerving stress of not knowing where the next meal would come, and the elderly of the county were the focus of a daylong meeting last week at First United Methodist Church in Port St. Joe.

Members of the Gulf County Citizens Long-Term Recovery and local stakeholders held a conclave with representatives from various state and regional agencies to address two of the most pressing needs following Hurricane Michael.

The agencies at the table ranged from CareerSource Gulf Coast to Second Harvest of the Big Bend, Feeding Florida, Feeding Gulf Coast, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and Gulf County Senior Citizens.

“The whole purpose was to bring people together and finding solutions,” said Loretta Costin with Gulf Coast State College. “There are barriers but we can overcome those barriers.”

Put another way: the food can reach Gulf County; a significant barrier is a lack of sites for distribution.

The county also has a lower-than-expected enrollment in SNAP, or the food stamp program for the needy, and farmers markets are an under-utilized outreach site for state and local agencies.

As for the elderly, Vicki Abrams from the Long-Term Recovery Committee, shared results from a recent survey by the faith-based organization World Renew which spotlighted that the most sizable vulnerable demographic population in the county was elderly females.

There are also a disproportionate number of veterans in need.

The World Renew survey estimated that the immediate needs of the most vulnerable surveyed topped $9 million.

“This is small fraction of what has actually been impacted,” said Dr. Pat Hardman, a member of the Long-Term Recovery Committee.

Hardman noted that the last figures she saw indicated there were well over 8,000 insurance claims out of Gulf County due to Hurricane Michael.

Abrams said FEMA had expressed an interest in having the county apply for a capacity building grant and added that the Long-Term Committee would focus immediately on working with the most vulnerable people and homes identified by the World Renew survey.

Another initiative will be to boost local institutional funding to support the Committee’s efforts.

“Everybody is excited about some the things we can do,” Abrams said mid-afternoon as the meeting was wrapping up.