During Hunger Action Month in September, people throughout the country will stand together to spread the word and take action on the hunger crisis in their communities. Here in Naples, Meals of Hope helps ensure no one in our community goes hungry all year long.
The largest food pantry provider in Southwest Florida, Meals of Hope began in 2007 as the vision of Stephen Popper, President and CEO. Over the years, the nonprofit has grown to include a total of 12 food pantries – including five mobile pantries – that distribute fresh and nutritious food to approximately 1,000 families each week throughout Collier and Lee counties.
“Many people don’t realize the extent to which hunger affects our community,” said Popper, who explained that more than 90,000 students in Lee and Collier rely on free and reduced lunches, and an increasing number of seniors and veterans struggle with food security. Whether they speak English, Spanish or Creole, people who depend on the food pantries have one thing in common: their desire to feed their families.
“We are able to offer food security with our mobile pantries. People know they can count on us,” said
Popper. “Many use the money they save on groceries toward rent or to help pay medical expenses.”
As a partner agency with the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Meals of Hope distributes more than 2 million pounds of food each year as it fulfills its mission of inspiring and empowering communities to come together to end hunger.
Meals of Hope is also known for meal packaging events, during which groups come together to assemble thousands of simple, nutritious meals that are distributed for free through local schools
and food banks. With the help of more than 25,000 volunteers, Meals of Hope packed 8.5 million meals in 2018 at events in Southwest Florida and throughout the United States.
Meals of Hope also offers additional services and summer meal programs that serve more than 10,000
Southwest Florida residents. For Popper, it’s about more than just the numbers. It’s about
community. “It’s gratifying and humbling to be able to help, but we wouldn’t be able to do as much
as we can without generous donations from our supporters and the help of our army of
volunteers who share our dedication to the community,” Popper said.
Through his Kiwanis connection, Estero resident Mike Holmes started to volunteer with Meals of Hope about eight years ago, and he continues to volunteer twice a month at the River Park mobile food pantry. “I can think of no charity giving event that time wise is as enjoyable as helping out at the pantry,” said Holmes. The organization recently announced plans to expand its mobile food pantry outreach using a $68,000 grant from Empty Bowls Naples, a fundraiser held annually on the last Saturday in January to benefit local organizations that provide food to those in need.
“The grant will help us add another mobile food pantry location to better serve more families in our community,” said Popper. To learn more about Meals of Hope and how you can help during Hunger
Action Month, visit www.mealsofhope.org or call 239-537-7775.