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F.I.S.H. provides more than food for island residents, workers, visitors

By Staff | Sep 1, 2011

Photos by SHANNEN HAYES The food pantry at F.I.S.H. urgently needs your help. It is at an all-time low, along with other local food pantries. F.I.S.H. is appealing specifically for food high in protein, such as fresh or canned meat and fish. It also needs items that are not provided by food stamps, such as toilet paper, toothpaste, paper towels, deodorant and shampoo and conditioner. If you would like to help, donations can be taken to the walk-in center at 1630 Periwinkle Way or monetary donations may be made online at www.fishofsanibel.com.

It is no secret that Floridians have been struggling to find work in this tough economy. With the state’s unemployment rate higher than the national average of 9.1 percent as of July, many households are fighting to make ends meet. Sanibel and Captiva islanders have been no exception.

However, the islands have Friends In Service Here or better known as F.I.S.H. Started by six couples, who identified a need in the community nearly 30 years ago, the non-profit human services organization focuses on neighbors helping neighbors.

“There are a certain number of people out there, who don’t know what F.I.S.H. is and it makes me sad,” said part-time office manager Lyn Kern.

So, what does F.I.S.H. have to offer those who live, work or visit Sanibel and Captiva?

Its traditional services include:

o Non-emergency transport on and off island

o Daily hot meals delivered to your doorstep

o Temporary loan of medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and walkers

o Daily reassurance phone calls to individuals living alone

o In-home visitation

o Health care referrals

o A Friendly Faces luncheon typically held at George and Wendy’s Corner Grill due to its ground-level entrance.

o Hurricane preparedness

o Emergency financial assistance

o Holiday meals Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter

o Youth summer scholarships

In 2006, F.I.S.H. served 136 clients and operated on a budget of $18,420. In just four short years, the list has grown to a staggering 950 clients on Sanibel and Captiva with revenues in excess of $370,000. As a 501-c-3 non-profit organization, F.I.S.H. relies heavily on individual donations to keep its doors open and essential services available.

Last year, more than half ($196,128) of its funding came from individual donors with 36 percent or $132,810 from organizations and grants; while the rest or just 12 percent ($45,084) was generated from events, such as the upcoming Sanibel Island 10K Race 4 F.I.S.H.

“That is our main fund-raising event,” said Blanaid Colley, vice president and marketing director for F.I.S.H.

In 2010, the organization spent 86 percent of its funding on direct client support with just 6 percent spent on fundraisers and 8 percent on administration costs.

F.I.S.H. hosted its first community fund drive, wrote its first grant application and opened the walk-in center in 2007. The next year, a disciplined intake process was established and the food pantry opened. In 2009, F.I.S.H. moved its walk-in center from The Village Shops to its current location next to Pfeifer Realty Group and became a United Way House. Last year, a licensed clinical social worker was hired and this year the executive director’s position was established.

“No one could have foreseen this kind of growth,” said Kern.

Even though F.I.S.H. has a few part-time workers on the payroll, it is mostly staffed by a dedicated group of 200 island volunteers. Through those volunteers in 2010, F.I.S.H. was able to:

o Provide $133,475 in emergency financial assistance to island families

o Make over 744 daily reassurance phone calls

o Drive clients to almost 200 medical related appointments

o Deliver 1,487 hot meals to 30 clients

o Provide 338 pieces of medical equipment

o Distribute 47,000 pounds of food during 1,600 client visits to its food pantry

o Help 19 young people with youth summer scholarships

Since the economy has not yet recovered, islanders have come to depend on F.I.S.H. services. But the organization has some future challenges meeting the continuing demand for services, competition for the donation dollar, ensuring its volunteer base continues to grow and to meet its objective by expanding its social investment in our community so neighbors live independently and with dignity in their homes.

Perhaps one of the organization’s most immediate challenges is keeping the food pantry shelves stocked during the off season. It is at an all-time low, along with most pantries in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach.

“We need food that is high in protein,” said Kern. “Particularly fresh or canned meat and fish.”

Food is ordered on a weekly basis from the Harry Chapin Food Bank, but it too has not had any food for more than a month and F.I.S.H. supplies are almost depleted. More than 60 island families are provided food from F.I.S.H. and your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you would like to make a monetary donation or help by donating proteins such as chicken, beef, turkey and either fresh or canned fish, it can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the F.I.S.H. walk-in center, 1630 Periwinkle Way, Unit B. Financial donations can also be made online at www.fishofsanibel.com.

In addition, F.I.S.H. is looking for drivers to transport clients off-island to medical appointments. If you are interested in helping provide this vital service, stop by the walk-in center or call 472-4775.