Harry Chapin Food Bank
Summer is a time for family vacations, backyard barbecues and long, lazy days at the beach or pool.
But for Collier County children like six year old Daniel summer is when they go hungry because their one reliable source for a meal—school —closes. More than 60 percent of Collier County public school students receive free or reduced-priced meals, which provide them with the vital nutrition they need to learn and succeed.
“When I eat lunch, it helps me with school,” said Daniel, who misses breakfast at home because his parents don’t earn enough money to consistently put food on the table.
Summer is when the Harry Chapin Food Bank is most needed, but it’s also when the food bank is most challenged. Not only are schools closed, but unemployment tends to spike in the summer as seasonal jobs disappear and fresh, nutritious food is harder to come by because the regional growing season ends.
“We call summer the triple threat,” said Al Brislain, the food bank’s president and CEO.
The food bank serves about 30,000 people each month —12,000 of them children – through a network of 150 partner agencies that operate pantries, afterschool programs, soup kitchens and other initiatives in Collier, Charlotte, Lee, Hendry and Glades counties. Each month, this network feeds about 30,000 people, 40 percent of whom are children.
Collier County is one of Southwest Florida’s highest areas of need, Brislain said. The food bank works with more than 25 Collier partner agencies, and it operates a mobile pantry program funded by the Naples Children and Education Foundation (NCEF), founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival.
Last year, the food bank provided Collier County children, their families and other residents in need with 3.1 million pounds of food, or almost 2.5 million meals, from its warehouses in Naples and Fort Myers. This was a 19 percent increase over 2013.
About one-third of the food provided to Collier residents last year was fresh produce that was donated by local growers such as Lipman and Troyer Brothers and farmers throughout the state. The food bank also receives some fresh produce through donations by Publix Super Markets, Walmart, Target and other retailers.
“Studies show that fresh fruits and vegetables are critical to a child’s development,” Brislain said. “It’s our goal to provide children and our other neighbors in need with as much fresh, nutritious food as we can possibly get.”
That goal is harder to achieve in the summer when Southwest Florida’s growing season ends. Consequently, the food bank looks North and West to acquire truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables.
A grower may donate a load of apples from Michigan, for example, but getting that donation here can cost the food bank up to $10,000, depending on the type of produce, Brislain said.
Over the years, the food bank has worked with community partners to feed children in the summer. For example, the food bank works with the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties to provide food through mobile pantries funded by the United Way and other supporters.
“Feeding thousands of hungry children and their families is expensive,” Brislain said. “That’s why we rely so much on community support to help with our mission. Without growers, retailers, and private donors who financially support the food bank, more children would face a summer of hunger.”
This summer in Collier County, the food bank will continue providing children with fresh, nutritious food through the NCEF mobile pantry program and its partner-agency network so children like Daniel and his older sister Adrian, seven, won’t worry about if they’ll get to eat.
When she’s hungry, Adrian said her “stomach feels weird, but amazing when I get to eat.”
“Food is very important,” she explained. “It’s just as important as sleep.”
Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida
2221 Corporation Blvd. Naples, FL 34109
3760 Fowler St. Fort Myers, FL 33901
The Harry Chapin Food Bank:
- Serves Collier, Charlotte, Lee, Hendry and Glades counties.
- Works with 150 partner agencies, more than 25 of them in Collier County.
- Helps feed 30,000 each month—12,000 of them children.
- Provided 19.6 million pounds of food—or about 16.3 million meals valued at $33.7 million—last year throughout Southwest Florida.
- Acquires food from growers and packing houses locally, regionally and nationally
- Collects and distributes food donated by more than 140 retailers in the five-county area including Publix Super Markets, Walmart, Target and Winn-Dixie