by Dave Trecker
The generosity of the Naples community never ceases to amaze. Philanthropists large and small come through year after year with donations to the less fortunate –donations of time, books, food and lots of money.
2022 has been no exception.
- The Neighborhood Health Clinic continues to providemedical care to the needy.
- Liberty Youth Ranch is a beacon for homeless youth, a remarkable example of selfless giving.
- The Guadalupe Center collects and distributes all manner of goods, clothes and household items for those in need.
Then there are the many churches and synagogues with strong missionary commitments. The Naples United Church of Christ partners with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to provide a safety net for migrant field hands.
We all know of the Naples Wine Festival, an annual extravaganza that brings in millions for the Naples Children & Education Foundation. This year, with the theme “Rise Up: Twenty Twenty Twogether,” the festival auctioned off high-end wine from 21 vintners and raised a whopping $23 million.
Less flamboyant, but a wonderful grassroots example is the “Stock the Pantry” food drive, a wildly successful neighborhood charity that provides packaged goods for St. Matthew’s House.
Barbara Davin and Julie Wade started the program 18 months ago in Pelican Bay in the midst of the pandemic, tapping into the generosity of residents weary from being shut in. Under these less-than-ideal circumstances, they collected an astonishing amount of food and money.
This year has been even better. Partnering with the Pelican Bay Rotary Club, the Germain Honda and Germain Lexus dealers and Club Pelican Bay, they found willing participants in 60 condo and homeowner associations. That’s the equivalent of 5,400 doors, a lot of donors. In just five days enough canned goods and other packaged food was collected to fill dozens of bins, the largest food drive in St. Matthew’s House history – enough to feed 6,000 families!
“The simple act of donating food comes with the gift of hope,” said Barbara Devin.
Lorna McLain of St. Matthew’s House called it a godsend, “a wonderful example of how communities can help those in need.”
While generosity is a year-round business, many charities are most active at Christmas time. One of my favorites is Toys for Tots, a national program run by the Salvation Army, no slouch when it comes to helping the poor.
Donation sites look like toy stores, with bicycles lined up and stacks of books and board games. Last year, according to organizer Joanne Hobin, a single neighborhood donated over 5,000 toys. Multiply that by many neighborhoods, and you get some idea of the impact. This year should be even better.
And giving isn’t limited to material goods. Hands-on counseling can make a difference. A good example is the mentoring project Guadalupe runs for Hispanic youth in the Immokalee area. Four programs, starting in preschool, match hundreds of young people with dedicated mentors who guide them one-on-one through high school and beyond.
A friend and former colleague, Tom Brand, who has been mentoring for over 20 years, says it’s great volunteer work and very rewarding. “Students we counsel,” he said, “are often the first in their families to go to college.”
Bob Spano, who manages the overall program, tells of a mentored student who went on to college, then medical school. She now works as a physician in Lee Memorial Hospital – not a bad return on investment.
All in all, it’s a pretty impressive scorecard. Summing up, Julie Wade says, “Never underestimate the generosity of people.”
She’s right. And in helping the less fortunate, the Naples community is second to none.