LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — What brings together swan boats, Kentucky Derby-style hats, and health care for the uninsured?

Lakeland’s annual Swan Derby.

“I love everything about it,” said Sonia Glisson, of Fort Meade.

Glisson started volunteering for the Swan Derby several years ago, even before she became a patient at Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine.

“I was working. I was uninsured. I was a single mom. Had a great job, it was just a small company that didn’t afford us health insurance,” said Glisson, who is now LVIM director of development.

While uninsured, she avoided going to the doctor until she found a lump on her arm.

The lump was benign and she continued receiving care from LVIM for two more years.

LVIM leadership says it aims to target the 50,000 people in Polk County who are in similar situations as Glisson.

“A lot of folks in Florida, and in Polk County especially, are making a little bit too much to qualify for government assistance but not enough to pay for private care,” said Alice Koehler, Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine president and CEO.

According to Koehler, the need for high-quality, free health care is greater now, since many patients put off screenings and treatments during the pandemic.

“We don’t currently have a whole lot of new people enrolling in services but the people who are enrolled are a lot sicker than they used to be,” said Koehler.

In total, there are 419 volunteers at LVIM, including receptionists, nurses, and doctors, and 20 full-time staff members.

Koehler is bracing for, what she expects, could be an influx of patients soon.

“A lot of people were allowed to stay on Medicaid through the pandemic and they didn’t have to reapply through those years. We’re expecting about 2 million people in the state of Florida to not have Medicaid anymore,” Keohler said.

The Swan Derby is LVIM’s biggest fundraiser of the year, raising $200,000 of the organization’s $2.6 million budget.

To find ways to donate or volunteer, visit