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Islander’s plan to help hungry races past expectations

By Staff | Apr 15, 2015

Sanibel Community Church mission paster Brad Livermon (left), FISH CEO/president Maggi Feiner, Michael Bugler and Sharon Bugler. CRAIG GARRETT

Michael Bugler wanted to help. So he prayed. He made calls. Nothing. He nearly gave up.

And then one day an email arrived on his home computer. It was in the final moments of a 30-day pledge to get involved in feeding the hungry. The ping of that email was a sign, he said. A Fort Myers food pantry wanted Bugler and his wife Sharon to help. That day in 2014 the Buglers formed Feed the 5000 Now. The island nonprofit collected as little as one dollar in donations to purchase food for hungry kids and adults, many in Sanibel. One dollar buys up to $6 in food.

Michael Bugler’s goal was to collect some $17,000 in a few months, mostly from parishioners at the Sanibel Community Church. He ended up with nearly $50,000, or $300,000 in food purchases. He presented evenly divided checks April 8 to the Harry Chapin Food Bank, a rescue mission in Fort Myers and to FISH of Sanibel-Captiva, a nonprofit with a busy food panty.

“It speaks well of our community,” Michael Bugler said. “We set the goal but didn’t expect to exceed it by three times.

Michael Bugler surprised few when first bolting together Feed the 5000 Now, then racing past the $17,000 goal. He started his career in England in sales, hauling bags of greeting cards around London. He ended up as the Hallmark company’s CEO/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 in Sanibel volunteered. 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 in a story on his life in February. “The size of the thing is what shocked me. It’s much bigger than (you) imagine.”

What started in hiccups evolved into a deluge of giving dollar bills, Michael Bugler said. Friends visiting the Buglers Sanibel home would chip in a dollar each, for instance. Church parishioners would give dollars each Sunday. At a church of many hundreds, the numbers quickly added up, he said. Bugler promised that every dollar would end up as food on the table. The check for nearly $50,000 was deposited with Harry Chapin to help fill rescue mission and FISH pantries. The Buglers are pledging to raise $100,000 in the next campaign.

The Sanibel Community Church congregation “was absolutely behind the Buglers,” mission pastor Brad Livermon said. “It’s the classic example of everyone kicking in a little…and suddenly there’s a lot. The church really connected with the idea.”