Difficult economic circumstances can quickly empty a family’s food pantry. To assist residents still reeling from the financial crisis, a Florida Kiwanis club and two local agencies combined compassion and resources to organize a mobile food-delivery program.
A 2009 article by CNN named Lee County, Florida, as one of the areas hardest hit by the U.S. housing crisis. The year before, MSNBC reported the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area’s unfortunate ranking as having the highest national foreclosure rate. The result: 10 percent unemployment and families forced to choose between paying for housing, health care and food. More than 60 percent of households in southwest Florida lack consistent and adequate access to nutritious food.
“Studies have shown that low-income families are the first to be impacted by a recession, and the last to recover,” says Kim Berghs, the volunteer center manager for the United Way of Lee, Henry and Glades counties. (United Way is a U.S.-based organization whose chapters coordinate and connect community needs with the resources offered by local partner agencies.)
To address the community’s hunger problem, the Harry Chapin Food Bank established a mobile food pantry program several years ago, but its services remained underutilized due to the amount of manpower and financial resources needed to execute it.
The United Way and the food bank regularly are helped by the Kiwanis Club of Fort Myers Metro-McGregor; so, the idea of co-hosting a mobile food bank event seemed like a resourceful and intelligent collaboration to all parties involved.
“Our club was one of the first groups in the area to recognize the potential benefit to our neighbors in need and the cost effectiveness of such a collaboration,” says Berghs, who is also the Metro-McGregor Kiwanis club’s secretary.
The United Way identified neighborhoods with families who most needed food supplies, and it advertised the event through its human services networks.
Over the course of the day, the team of organizers, joined by the Fort Myers and Fort Myers-Edison Kiwanis clubs, distributed more than 15,000 pounds of food valued at US$25,000—including meat, fresh produce and non-perishables—to 246 households, primarily families of hungry school-age children and senior citizens.
“People were very friendly, appreciative, and it gave Kiwanis an opportunity to connect with the community,” reflects club President Jessica Gnagey.
“It was so gratifying to see the excitement on the faces of the clients served,” shares Al Brislain, president of the Harry Chapin Food Bank. “Most low-income families cannot afford fresh produce, so the mobile pantry made a real difference for hundreds of families that day.” –Courtney Meyer
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