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Island couple’s campaign to feed the hungry starts with $1

By Staff | Feb 11, 2015

Michael and Sharon Bugler have founded Feed the 5000 Now in Sanibel. CRAIG GARRETT

One dollar.

Doesn’t seem like much, but it’ll help fill an empty stomach for a day. One dollar in southwest Florida purchases $6 of food in bulk. So, a $1,000 turned to $6,000 worth of food feeds an amazing number struggling seniors, kids and families. It’s especially important in Lee County, where child poverty in some neighborhoods is at 25 percent. Entire county schools utilize vouchers to feed the kids.

“It’s such a simple idea, the humble throwaway dollar feeding hungry families,” said Michael Bugler, who with his wife Sharon founded Feed the 5000 Now, a campaign in Sanibel to raise funding and interest in helping needy families. “And it’s especially important in the summer months, when food pantries are empty.”

The Buglers this month are pushing to raise some $17,000 in donations to purchase more than $100,000 in bulk food from the Harry Chapin Food Bank. Cash raised in one and five-dollar donations is largely from fellow parishioners at the Sanibel Community Church, but others from outside the historic chapel are giving, Bugler said. Money collected will purchase bulk food for distribution to FISH of Sanibel, the Fort Myers Salvation Army food pantry and the Fort Myers Rescue Mission, a model in caring for the homeless, Bugler said.

To an outsider, Michael Bugler seems the ideal man for helping others. The product of a hardscrabble childhood, his outlook was bleak. With no advanced education or training, he started adulthood as a greeting card salesman, lugging heavy product bags around London. It was fiercely competitive, he said, with other salesmen hiding re-order cards, jostling one another for retail space, slogging along to hit his numbers. When most would pitch that plan, Bugler endured, in fact moving up the ladder, eventually obtaining the chief executive’s position with Hallmark UK. He later ran an 1,100-store greeting card chain with 9,000 workers, retiring in Sanibel in 2008. He was immensely successful, but didn’t forgot life can be tough, he said.

Comfortable, the Buglers began volunteering. In a visit to a Fort Myers food pantry, Michael Bugler was shocked at the demand, the needs of so many. He watched families obtain groceries to last a few days, wait out the month with little to eat.

“I was like ‘oh my goodness,'” he said. “The size of the thing is what shocked me. It’s much bigger than (you) imagine.”

The Buglers hope that Feed the 5000 Now will endure for the next generation of families in need.

“Get involved,” Michael Bugler said. “You don’t want to be sitting on your backside. There’s so much that needs to get done.”