We recognize that over the past few weeks, many families in our community have been impacted by layoffs, reductions in work hours, or changes to your income. There are support systems in place to help at an unprecedented time like this. It is ok to need help.

We’ve compiled a list of places to seek help in the Lakeland area. 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.

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

Email: uw211help@gmail.com

Online resources: Click here

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 and can save you hours of research.

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

Peace River Center
Help for Mental Health, Domestic Violence, & more

With 27 locations, 30 programs and accreditation from The Joint Commission and licensed by ACHA and DCF, Peace River Center is one of the largest behavioral health agencies in Florida, based here in Polk County.

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

Peace River Center is here to serve you. How to reach Peace River Center:

Their Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) is a free 24-hour community resource available to anyone experiencing emotional distress due to COVID-19. You can reach our free 24-hour Crisis Line by calling (863)519-3744 or (800) 627-5906.

In addition to higher levels of general anxiety and depression, these stressful times can cause a spike in domestic disputes and sexual assault. If you need help, services are available by calling the Victim Services Crisis Line: (863) 413-2700.

Additional Mental Health and Crisis Resources

Over the past few weeks we have likely all felt some form of fear and anxiety. The uncertainty and stress of our current situation may cause anxiety in anyone, even if you do not typically feel anxious. Children may also have strong emotions and not know why. If you or a family member need to talk to someone, these resources are confidential and available for FREE 24/7:

Florida Unemployment Benefits

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.

CareerSource Polk is also providing paper applications in Polk County. Reemployment Assistance applications can be picked up and dropped off at their 3 office locations:

  • CareerSource Polk – Winter Haven: 500 E N Lake Howard Dr, Winter Haven, FL 33881
  • CareerSource Polk – Lakeland: 309 N Ingraham Ave, Lakeland, FL 33801
  • CareerSource Polk Headquarters: Bartow 600 N Broadway Ave, Bartow, FL 33830

For your convenience, paper applications can also be picked up at multiple locations around Polk County. Visit the CareerSource Polk Website for a current list of pick up locations.

ACCESS Florida
State of Florida assistance with food, health care, 
cash assistance, and Medicare

The ACCESS Florida website is your first stop to find out if you are eligible for:

  • Help with buying food
  • Low or no-cost health care
  • Cash Assistance
  • Help paying Medicare Premiums

How to apply for Food Stamps in Florida – SNAP Benefits

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 and the other programs listed above, visit the ACCESS Florida website to get started.

Mortgage and Rent Assistance

Do you need rental assistance? Are you homeless or in danger of being homeless? The Homeless Coalition of Polk County may be able to help. Call (863) 687 – 8386 and 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.  Please be aware that they are currently receiving an overwhelming number of calls, and you may not receive a return call immediately.  Please do not leave multiple messages, as this will only delay their ability to return calls quickly and get you the help you need.

Temporary assistance is available from other organizations for qualified individuals. For additional details, please call 211 to learn the latest about additional rent or mortgage assistance available in Polk County.

Child Care Assistance – Healthcare & First Responders

The Early Learning Coalition is offering a new program for healthcare workers and first responders that will cover up to 3 months of child care, regardless of income.  Contact your organization’s human resource department for details or send an email to sheilabishop@elcpolk.org or visit the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County website at www.elcpolk.org.

Aunt Bertha

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.

Coronavirus Tax Relief Economic Stimulus Payments

The distribution of economic impact payments started on April 15.  To check the status of your payment and find out if you need to take any additional steps, visit https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments. If you don’t file taxes, you can also use the link to find the application to receive your payment. Look near the bottom fo the page for a link to additional FAQ’s.

Additional Articles: 

April Mucci Lakeland Mom
April Mucci Lakeland Mom

About the Author: April Mucci

April is the owner of LakelandMom.com. She has lived in Lakeland since age 2 and is passionate about our community and connecting families with local resources. She is a mom to 2 boys and a mini goldendoodle, wife to Matt. You can often find April at the baseball field where she cheers on her baseball loving 11 year old, or home building Legos with her 9 year old. She loves reading, saltwater fishing, and working on Lakeland Mom!