Over the past year, many families in our community have been impacted by layoffs, reductions in work hours, or changes to income. Stress levels also feel like they are at an all-time high, creating a greater need for mental health resources and domestic violence support.
Whether you are still feeling the impact of the pandemic OR find yourself unexpectedly in a financial crisis or family crisis, there are support systems in place to help at an unprecedented time like this. It is ok to need help. These community organizations exist to help people in a time of need.
We’ve compiled a list of places to find assistance in the Lakeland area and Polk County, Florida. Keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list of all resources. Many of our local assistance programs are specific to an individual’s situation, and our goal is to help point you in the right direction.
- United Way 211
- Free Food Pantries + Food Resources
- Mental Health and Crisis Resources
- Domestic Violence Hotline
- Free Financial Stability Classes
- Child Care Assistance
- Free Legal Assistance
- Jobs + Employment
- Free Health Care + Dental Care
- Polk County Rental Assistance
- Polk County Community Care Centers
- Assistance for the Elderly
- Free School Supplies
- Free School Uniforms
- Free Prom Dresses + Suits
- Christmas Assistance Programs
- ACCESS Florida – State of Florida Assistance Programs
Polk County Assistance Programs
Free Food, Mental Health Resources, Financial Assistance, + more
Call or Text 2-1-1
United Way’s 2-1-1 is the most comprehensive source of human and social services information in the country. You can utilize 211 by making a phone call, sending a text, sending an email, online chat, or you can browse their directory of resources.
Compassionate, highly trained specialists are available 24/7 to connect you with the best services available in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties. Keep in mind that 211 is a referral service – this means they will assess your individual situation and your needs and provide you with a list of community organizations that may be able to help. The 211 service is NOT a direct provider of financial assistance or physical assistance.
United Way’s 2-1-1 specialists can provide information about:
- supplemental food & nutrition programs
- clothing, shelter & housing options
- financial assistance
- emergency information & natural disaster relief
- health care services
- child, adolescent & adult mental health services
- addiction prevention & rehabilitation programs
- support groups for individuals with mental illnesses & special needs
- a safe, confidential path out of physical or emotional domestic abuse
- adult, child, family & elder services
- services for individuals with disabilities
Text: text your zip code to 898-211
Phone: 888-370-7188 or 2-1-1
Online Chat: Visit the UWCF 211 page to begin the online chat
Editor’s Note: If you need assistance that falls into any of the categories above, we highly recommend starting with 211. They keep a comprehensive list of local resources far beyond what is listed below and can save you hours of research.
Free Food Pantries + Food Resources
Mobile Food Pantries
The United Way of Central Florida’s George W. Jenkins End Hunger Initiative, as well as Feeding Tampa Bay, have weekly Mobile Food Pantry stops across Polk County. If you are in need of food, visit a food pantry location on the set day and time to pick up a pre-packaged box or bag of groceries, free of charge. They do not require ID, papers, or pre-screening to obtain free food at a Mobile Pantry. Click here to see a list of upcoming mobile food pantry stops in our area.
Polk County Schools Summer Meals
During the Summer 2021, Polk County Schools also offer free breakfast and lunch to children under 18. Learn more about where you can pick up free summer meals for children.
WIC (Women, Infants, and Children)
WIC is a federally funded nutrition program serving pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women; infants; and children under the age of 5 who have low-to-moderate income and are at nutritional risk. Learn more on the Polk Department of Health Website or call 863-519-7542.
SNAP Benefits – How to apply for Food Stamps in Florida
SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, provides food assistance in Florida. Recipients spend their benefits (provided on an electronic card that is used like an ATM card) to buy eligible food in authorized retail food stores. To determine if you are eligible for SNAP, visit the ACCESS Florida website to get started.
Pandemic EBT benefits are being issued to families that participated in eLearning or were under a required quarantine from school AND receive free lunch benefits. Learn more about the 2020 – 2021 P-EBT Cards.
Mental Health and Crisis Resources
Peace River Center
Peace River Center is one of the largest behavioral health agencies in Florida, based here in Polk County, providing services in Mental Health, Family Crisis, Substance Abuse and more. Peace River Center has 27 locations, 30 programs, accreditation from The Joint Commission and licensed by ACHA and DCF.
They offer an array of services including:
- 24-hour crisis services
- Domestic violence shelters and victim advocacy
- Inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services
- Rape Recovery & Resource Center
- Substance abuse treatment
- Mental Health
How to reach Peace River Center:
To initiate services, call 863.248.3311 or visit the website to learn more.
If you are in crisis, the Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) is a free 24-hour community resource available to anyone experiencing emotional distress. You can reach the free 24-hour Crisis Line by calling (863) 519-3744 or (800) 627-5906.
Tri-County Human Services
Tri-County Human Services, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit organization, providing substance abuse and mental health treatment to residents of Polk, Hardee and Highlands Counties. Both inpatient (residential) and outpatient services are available. Call Tri-County at 863-709-9392 or visit their website to learn more.
Additional Mental Health and Crisis Resources
If you or a family member need to talk to someone, these resources are confidential and available for FREE 24/7:
- Call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Text HOME to 741-741 for Crisis Text Line
- Call 1-800-985-5990 or text START to 678-678 or click here to chat with The Trevor Project (for LGBTQ youth)
- 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22-522 to connect with The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Domestic Violence Hotline
If you are in physical danger where you are staying or you are fleeing domestic violence, call the Victim Services Crisis Line at (863) 413-2700. Help and temporary housing are available.
Free Financial Stability Classes
The Personal Finance Center of Polk County is located at the Mulberry Community Service Center, and serves the residents of Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties. PFC offers a comprehensive Financial Stability Program that includes financial classes, coaching, credit restoration, and income tax preparation.
The free classes are a series of four sessions in a comfortable, non-judgmental environment that will teach you how to be smarter with your money no matter what your circumstances. Sessions cover how to budget, get out of debt, save and invest, and improve credit reports. If you are unable to attend live classes, the curriculum is also available online. See the Financial Classes page for an upcoming class schedule.
Child Care Assistance
The Early Learning Coalition can help working families with Childcare expenses through the School Readiness program. Eligibility is based on total family income and parents must be working or going to school. The program serves children from 6 weeks to 12 years of age. Fees are assessed based on a sliding fee scale. Visit the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County website at elcpolk.org to learn more or call 863-577-2450.
Free Legal Assistance
Heart of Florida Legal Aid Society is a nonprofit law firm providing free civil legal assistance to low income communities and individuals in the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Florida. Service area includes Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties. HOFLA’s practice areas include family law, domestic violence, and immigration. There are no fees for attorneys or staff to assist clients who meet eligibility guidelines and case priorities.
Jobs + Employment
Visit EmployFlorida.com to find jobs near you. You can search job openings, create and post your résumé, look for training, and much more.
CareerSource Polk can also help job seekers or those looking for additional training here in Polk County.
Visit FloridaJobs.org to learn how to apply for unemployment benefits in Florida, also called reemployment assistance. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity administers unemployment compensation in Florida.
Free Health Care + Dental Care
Florida KidCare: Free + Low-Cost Dental and Health Insurance for Kids
Florida KidCare programs provide affordable, quality dental and health insurance for children from birth through age 18. More than 174,000 children in Florida are currently eligible for low-cost or completely free insurance. Learn more about Florida KidCare.
Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine
Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine (LVIM) is a volunteer-run health care center that provides free high-quality medical care to the working uninsured of Polk County. LVIM exists to fill the gap in healthcare coverage for those who are working and uninsured – patients typically do not qualify for government assistance, but cannot afford the price tag of high cost health insurance premiums. LVIM provides primary care, prescriptions, vision care, dental care, and mental health. Learn more and see if you are eligible on the LVIM website.
Polk County Department of Health
The Polk County Department of Health provides a variety of free clinical health and nutrition services to families in Polk County including dental care, family planning, pregnancy care, and adult health care.
Uninsured adults may be eligible to receive services for free under the Polk County Indigent Health Care program. This program provides no-cost primary medical and dental care to uninsured Polk County residents who meet certain income requirements. Contact the Florida Department of Health in Polk County at 863-519-7910 for more information.
Central Florida Health Care
Central Florida Health Care is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving the Polk, Highlands, and Hardee communities. Their 14 community health care centers include adult and pediatric primary care, dental care, behavioral health, OB/GYN, lab, X-ray, pharmacy, and optometry services. CFHC serve all who seek care regardless of ability to pay. No individual or family is turned away or denied medical care because of income. All patients are charged based on their verified ability to pay using a sliding fee scale based on income. Visit the Central Florida Health Care website to find a location near you.
Polk County Rental Assistance
Do you need rental assistance in Polk County FL? Are you homeless or in danger of being homeless? The Homeless Coalition of Polk County may be able to help. Call (863) 687 – 8386 to speak with someone or leave a brief message with your contact information and the nature of your call. Your call will be returned in the order it was received. You can also learn more on their website.
Temporary assistance is available from other organizations for qualified individuals. For additional details, please call 211 to learn the latest about additional mortgage or rent assistance available in Polk County.
Polk County Community Care Centers
These local non-profits exist to help create stable and self-sufficient households in our community. Eligibility for services varies by location, check directly with the organization for more information.
The Salvation Army helps those struggling to make ends to move them back toward self-sufficiency. They provide a variety of traditional social services and emergency assistance programs including food, shelter, clothing, housing, rent and utility assistance, youth services, and much more.
- Salvation Army of Lakeland and West Polk + Lakeland Community of Hope
- Salvation Army of Winter Haven and East Polk
Talbot House provides emergency shelter, healthcare, and food assistance to the homeless in our community.
Lighthouse Ministries services include residential programs, feeding and sheltering the homeless, and outreach centers within their thrift stores to assist low-income and at-risk families in West Central Florida.
The Mission of Winter Haven
The Mission of Winter Haven provides homeless services, a food pantry, community feedings, showers, clothing, hygiene, enrichment classes, training, counseling, prayer and other support services.
Women’s Resource Center
Operating for over 33 years, The Women’s Resource Center (WRC) assists families in crisis throughout Polk County. They provide a variety of services including:
- Independence Program (mentoring, financial literacy, job coaching)
- Free Family Counseling and Mental Health Counseling
- Emergency Utility Assistance
- Housing Assistance (Homeless Prevention, Rapid Rehousing)
- Food Pantry
Mulberry Community Service Center
The Mulberry Community Service Center is a non-profit organization working to create financially stable households. They provide food and clothing distribution, bill payment assistance, and financial education resources to residents of Mulberry, Nichols, Pine Lake, Willow Oaks, Fuller Heights, Imperial Lakes, Bradley and southeast Lakeland (ZIP Code 33813). If you live in one of these areas, contact the Mulberry Community Service Center at 863-425-1523 to learn how to apply for assistance.
Bartow Church Service Center
The Bartow Church Service Center provides emergency services year-round for those in Bartow and the Bartow school district. They attempt to meet the emergency needs of individuals on a temporary basis with food, clothing, meals, household items, gas, utilities, rent, transportation vouchers, housing, financial education services and much more. They also distribute food at Thanksgiving and toys at Christmas. If you live in the Bartow area, contact the Bartow Church Service Center at (863) 533-5822 to learn how to apply for assistance.
Frostproof Care Center
The Frostproof Care Center is in its twenty-sixth year of service to disadvantaged people in the rural southeastern corner of Polk County, Florida, including Frostproof and Babson Park. The Care Center helps individuals and families by meeting immediate and urgent physical needs caused by sudden trauma, disaster or economic instability and providing transitional services, education and mentoring to help them “get back on their feet.” They also distribute food at Thanksgiving and toys at Christmas. If you live in the Frostproof area, contact the Frostproof Care Center at 863-635-5555 to learn how to apply for assistance.
HELP of Fort Meade
HELP of Ft. Meade is helping to empower local residents by combating hunger, homelessness, joblessness, and illiteracy in the Fort Meade area. HELP provides assistance with mortgages, rent, food, utilities, a thrift store, and more. If you live in the Fort Meade area, contact HELP of Fort Meade at 863-285-6600 to learn how to apply for assistance.
Lake Wales Care Center
If you live in Lake Wales or a nearby community, the Lake Wales Care Center provides year-round assistance as well as holiday help to hundreds of families during the holiday season through the annual food drive and holiday meals, Christmas gifts that are provided to children, and more. Contact the Lake Wales Care Center’s Main Office at 863-676-6678 to schedule an appointment with a case manager.
Catholic Charities of Central Florida
Catholic Charities provides a variety of services to our community including food distribution, family stability, immigration legal services, senior programs, and more. Learn more about Catholic Charities of Polk County.
Assistance for the Elderly
Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE) is a community-based, non-profit organization serving Lakeland, Bartow, Mulberry and Ft. Meade. The primary goal of VISTE is to enable frail elderly persons to continue living independently and safely in their own home, VISTE provides transportation, supplemental groceries, hot meals, and more.
Free School Supplies
In late July and August each year, community organizations host Back to School events and offer free school supplies. Check out Back to School event list to find free school supplies in Polk County.
Free School Uniforms
Local schools have access to free school uniforms and other needed supplies collected through the Polk Schools Tassel Project. Schools may also have a clothing closet where families can donate gently used uniforms. Contact your school directly for more information.
Free Prom Dresses + Suits
Students with a Polk County School ID can sign a pledge to celebrate prom alcohol and drug-free and receive their dresses and suits for FREE. Shop the Project Prom store from February – April.
Christmas Assistance Programs
Many of the Community Service Centers listed above offer assistance with food at Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as toys for children during the holidays. Check out full list of Christmas Assistance Programs in Lakeland + Polk County – be sure to apply early, many of them have application deadlines in September and October each year.
ACCESS Florida – State of Florida Assistance Programs
The ACCESS Florida website is your first stop to find out if you are eligible for state assistance with the following programs:
- SNAP Food Stamps – Help with buying food
- Medicaid – Low or no-cost health care
- TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Cash Assistance
- Help withMedicare Premiums
Aunt Bertha is a national network of social care programs. Their goal is to make it easy for people to find social services in their communities. You can use the Aunt Bertha website to search for free or reduced cost services like medical care, food, job training, and more.