As Northeast Florida’s largest provider of comprehensive services for homeless men, women and children, I. M Sulzbacher Center plays a major role in the city’s efforts to combat food insecurity. Last year, the Center, located at 611 East Adams Street, served more than 500,000 meals to hungry homeless people in the city.
“Jacksonville continues to struggle with both the homeless population and the working poor experiencing food insecurity issues,” said Eileen Briggs, Sulzbacher’s chief development officer. “You only have to look at the lines that form daily outside the kitchen of Sulzbacher Center to see the degree of need right before your eyes. At both lunch and dinner serving times, hungry individuals and families line up to receive a hot and nutritious meal.”
Open 365 days a year, Sulzbacher Center is a place where anyone who is hungry can receive a nutritious meal twice a day. Last year, I.M. Sulzbacher Center sheltered 1,501 homeless residents – 732 men, 364 women and 114 families with children – adding up to 125,750 nights of shelter. During that time, nutritious meals were served in the center’s state-of-the-art kitchen by more than 100 volunteer meal groups, according to I.M. Sulzbacher Center’s 2015-2016 annual report.
“The I.M. Sulzbacher Center’s meal program is supported almost exclusively by the community support of our meals program,” Briggs said. “Groups from churches, corporations, fraternities and sororities, and other civic organizations come together to purchase, prepare, and serve the meal. The program allows us to defray the costs of additional kitchen staff and food, so we can serve the half a million meals we provide to the community each year,” she said.
Volunteer meal groups provide over $200,000 in support and more than 14,000 hours of their time annually to feed the hungry in the community, according to the I.M. Sulzbacher website, which states that “meals are served on a first-come, first-served basis, but no one is ever turned away.”
In addition to the financial support of the meal groups, Sulzbacher also receives food from local food banks such as Feeding Northeast Florida and Farm Share, as well as U.S. Foods.
As a full-service homeless shelter, Sulzbacher provides homeless clients with health care – primary, behavioral, and dental – as well as high-quality children’s programs, GED programs and education opportunities, job placement assistance, and life skills programs, in addition to shelter and food. Last year its outreach supported 4,338 people living on the streets, and served 6,260 patients in its medical and dental clinics for a total of 40,554 clinic visits, according to the annual report.
I.M. Sulzbacher Center always welcomes monetary donations. Its income last year totaled $16.45 million, with the bulk of its funding coming from state and federal government (31.5 percent), City of Jacksonville (7.5 percent) and foundations (33.2 percent). In-kind donations totaled 10.5 percent of its income. Private donations totaled 2.8 percent, and United Way kicked in 1.4 percent of its funding, according to the annual report.
“The I.M. Sulzbacher Center is extremely fortunate to have the support of both the business and philanthropic communities,” Briggs said.
Health services comprise the biggest chunk of the Center’s operating expenses at nearly 60 percent. Shelter and food services comprise only 22.7 percent of Sulzbacher’s annual expense budget – a total of $75,600, Briggs said, adding that volunteer meal groups provided an additional $110,400 last year.
In April 2017, Sulzbacher held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new Sulzbacher Village for Women and Families at the corner of 44th and Pearl Streets in Jacksonville. The Village will provide an additional 70 units of affordable housing to single women, families with children, and female veterans, said Briggs. “The Village will also offer wrap-around supportive services to these women and families so that they can truly thrive,” she said, noting a ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for April 2018.
The addition of the women’s Village demonstrates a marked change in the Center since it opened its doors in 1995. Founded jointly by the City of Jacksonville, a group of area philanthropists and businessmen, and the United Way of Northeast Florida, the need in the community for a homeless center at that time was different, said Briggs.
“Back then we only served men and only had the capacity to provide breakfast to our residents. As the face of homelessness in Northeast Florida has evolved, so has our Center. Now the Sulzbacher Center is home to over 360 men, women, and children,” she said. “The Center was founded on the premise that homeless persons need and deserve more than a meal and a bed to facilitate their recovery and reintegration into the community. The Center provides a continuum of care approach to addressing all aspects of homelessness,” she said.
“We took our name and our inspiration from a man who exhibited extraordinary civic leadership and concern for the homeless,” Briggs continued. “I.M. Sulzbacher combined a successful business career with selfless dedication to our community. He took the lead in raising money and set high standards for the center that now bears his name. Although he passed away in 2001, his spirit of giving and his dedication to the homeless lives on at the I.M. Sulzbacher Center.”