Covid Grants Helping 3 Local Social Service Agencies Expand

Three Lakeland social-service organizations — Gospel Inc., Talbot House Ministries and Peace River Center — are readying for facility improvements afforded by COVID-19 grants.

The grants were awarded by the Polk County Commission and funded by the federal CARES Act.

Out of six agencies that applied for public facilities improvements related to Covid, three were awarded funds, said Tamara West, housing and neighborhood development manager at Polk County.

Peace River, which offers mental-health and victim services, will spend its $800,000 to expand a quarantine ward in its Bartow Crisis Stabilization Unit.

“The additions are crucial because the building design does not allow for a safe designated intake area or quarantine space to ensure all participants can follow appropriate infection control procedures and separation of infected patients when necessary,” said Ileana Kniss, director of community relations and development.

The ward serves those seeking emergency psychiatric care and who are at risk of spreading COVID-19.

The project aims to add more than 1,700 square feet to the facility, which allows for physical-distancing adherence during the intake process. Intakes can take from one to two hours for each patient.

Peace River is in the process of accepting bids for the renovation, with an estimated start date of May 2021 and completion date of Dec. 2021.

“Beyond COVID, this allows for quarantine of other contagions that require isolation,” Kniss said.

Gospel Inc., which offers services to those experiencing homelessness, is using its $1 million grant to purchase a property at 1140 E. Lemon St. populated with mobile homes and cottages. The units will be used for shelter-in-place emergencies for those who have been diagnosed with or are at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Renovations to the units are slated to begin in February, with some units due to be available in March.

“This acquisition presents a great opportunity for Gospel, Inc. moving forward because we will have our own space that will be dedicated to providing permanent housing to some of the most vulnerable homeless in our community who need a safe place to put down roots and to call home,” said founder and Director Brian Seeley.

Talbot House, an emergency food, medical and shelter provider was awarded $900,000 to expand its dining area.

Erin Martinez, Talbot House

“Using the room according to CDC guidelines has become a challenge during the pandemic, while we are continuing to serve over 300 meals every day,” said Erin Martinez, director of development at Talbot House.

Talbot House has also received funding from Publix Super Markets Charities and the George Jenkins Foundation to support its project.

To accommodate social distancing and increase food-pantry distribution, about 1,400 square feet of dining room space will be added, along with a screened-in outdoor-dining area, a sheltered area for food-pantry distribution, and new kitchen storage and renovations, Martinez said.

The expansion is in the design phase, with construction estimated to begin over the summer and be completed by March 2022.

The dining area improvements will enable Talbot House to feed an additional 60 to 80 individuals at a time and offer a greater variety of foods, such as fresh produce, dairy and meat. The grant approval comes at a time when the facility is seeing a surge in need.

“Demand for food pantry boxes spiked at the start of COVID-19 and has remained elevated ever since,” Martinez said.

Since many of the clients at Talbot House are considered immune-compromised and at a greater risk of contracting and suffering from COVID-19, the expansion helps provide a safe environment to eat and receive services.

“The kitchen and dining room are at the heart of campus,” Martinez said. “Everything we do starts there. I’m excited to see how these improvements expand our capacity to serve and, ultimately, change lives.”