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State senator volunteers in North Fort Myers

By Staff | Jan 12, 2013

Lizbeth Benequisto didn’t exactly stand out in the crowd. To many, she was just another volunteer passing out tomatoes.

Many people know her as their state senator in Tallahassee who passes laws to help make Florida a better place to live and tries hard to get tax dollars and other goodies to her district.

And on the eve of the next legislative session, she and many others were at Suncoast Community Center on Wednesday at the Harry Chapin Mobile Food Bank, handing food out to Suncoast residents, many of whom can’t always afford it.

More than 250 families waited in a line that went from the community center parking lot and onto Case Lane. Benequisto’s appearance was akin to an “open sesame” with the gates opening as she and her staff led the long of people to register before getting their food.

The food bank is among Benequisto’s biggest loves.

“We’re headed into session, so we wanted to have an opportunity to volunteer with them before we left,” Benequisto said. “We love the mission of the Harry Chapin Food Bank.

Among those glad she came was Al Brislain, president and CEO of the Harry Chapin Food Bank, who said it was her work getting funding for the Farmers for Florida program, which gets food that would usually perish into the hands of those who need it most.

“She’s been one of the champions of the program. It’s great having her out here,” Brislain said. “This is her third pantry and she just hands out food. She doesn’t say ‘Hey, look at me.'”

As the next legislative session draws near, Benequisto wants to help the area maintain the economic growth it has experienced.

“We look to the local leaders to help us determine what their agendas are and we do our best to advance those agendas,” Benequisto said. “But anything we can do to increase economic activity, create jobs and maintain education, that’s what we do.”

And Cape Coral, which was considered ground zero for the economic fallout, is the same in regards to its recovery.

“Cape Coral is the epicenter of job growth. Reports have suggested that as well,” Benequisto said. “We’re looking for great things.

Benequisto, a Republican, also said there are numerous challenges awaiting the Senate, with the budget being front and center.

“We’re going to do an intensive review and make sure important analysis is done for every dollar expended on the taxpayer’s behalf,” Benequisto said.

From there, it was off to the food bank, where she stood behind the Chapin food truck handing out tomatoes, speaking with residents who may not have known what she did, which was fine with them.

“She blends in fine with everybody else. She seems like a run-of-the-mill person,” said Sharon Thiel, a Suncoast resident.

“I haven’t seen her. I’ve been too busy,” Suncoast volunteer Michael Jenkins said. “We’re glad she’s here. We have a lot of volunteers.”

And it’s that volunteerism Benequisto said keeps her coming out to support the food bank, where she has volunteered numerous times.

“As long as there are people hungry, including children, we want to help them to connect with the resources. Volunteering for the food pantry is a way to do that,” Benequisto said.