Mobile Pantries in Collier County help fill the hunger gap

Valentina, 5, picked up some carrots when she went to the Pinecrest Elementary School Mobile Food Pantry with her mom

Valentina, 5, picked up some carrots when she went to the Pinecrest Elementary School Mobile Food Pantry with her mom

The line of about 200 people snaked down the sidewalk, past the walls of the school building and a chain-link fence, to the street.

On this muggy evening, they waited outside Pinecrest Elementary School in Immokalee for food to be distributed from a mobile pantry, set up by the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida. Streets in the surrounding neighborhood were filled with ramshackle trailers.

Beatrice was one of those in line. She works hard, cooking, cleaning and waiting tables at a local restaurant. But she doesn’t make enough to feed her family. The mobile pantry provides what she can’t. So she was happy to stand in the heat with her two daughters, Valentina, 5, and Clorana, 9, and son Isereol, 2.

“It’s good,” she said of the fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and other food she received. “It’s helping.”

Beatrice is far from alone in needing to supplement the amount of food her wages can put on her family’s table. Nationally, in the wake of the Great Recession, statistics show that one in six Americans struggles with hunger. In Collier County and elsewhere in Southwest Florida, the need is still great, even at the local economy regains momentum.

mobile pantry1Mobile pantries are an efficient and effective way to get food to those areas where it is most needed, said Al Brislain, president and CEO of the Harry Chapin Food Bank.

Many of the mobile pantries in Collier County are held at schools, and are underwritten by the Naples Children and Education Foundation (NCEF), founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival. The Pinecrest Elementary School is an NCEF pantry site.

The partnership between the food bank and NCEF is vital, Brislain said. “Without the Naples Children and Education Foundation, thousands of children in need in Collier County would not receive the nutritious foods we are able to provide.”

The mobile pantry program, established in July 2010, can reach about 250 to 300 households at each site. Households receive $60-plus worth of food.

mobile pantry 2At Pinecrest Elementary, two Harry Chapin Food Bank trucks set up in the parking lot, loaded with watermelons, onions, bags of apples, some cereal, bread, rice and beans and frozen meat. Trucks carry an average of 10,000 pounds of food for each distribution.

The food was gone in 90 minutes. Stragglers who arrived late had to leave empty-handed.

In addition to providing mobile pantries, the Harry Chapin Food Bank works with more than 25 Collier partner agencies. Last year, the food bank provided Collier County children, their families and other residents in need with 3.1 million pounds of food.

The food bank serves a five-county area in its mission to fight and overcome hunger in Southwest Florida. The food bank distributed 18.4 million pounds of food in fiscal year 2014-2015. That equals to 15.3 million meals for people in need.

Harry Chapin Food Bank provides about two-thirds of the food distributed by more than 150 partner agencies, including those in Collier County. They include local food pantries, soup kitchens, children’s food programs, senior programs, and others.

If you would like to help out at a mobile pantry in your area, please contact Tanya Phillips, our volunteer manager at 239.334.7007 extension 141 or email her at


Harry Chapin Food Bank by the numbers

  • Serves 30,000 people per month
  • 40 percent of clients are children
  • 10 percent are seniors
  • Distributes $6 worth of food for every $1 donated
  • More than 55,000 pounds of food distributed daily; 1 million pounds per month
  • Distributed 18.4 million pounds of food in fiscal year 2014-2015.
    • Value is $31.3 million
    • Equals 15.3 million meals

Coming Up

What: 2016 Empty Bowls Naples
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Jan. 23
Where: Cambier Park
To benefit: Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida

Cost: $15 donation in exchange for a handcrafted bowl to taste different soups created by chefs of area restaurants
Contact: Joyce Jacobs, Harry Chapin Food Bank, 239.334.7007, ext. 130; email

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