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F.I.S.H. offers various food programs for those in need

By Staff | Nov 11, 2015

Volunteers Sue Prather, Jodie Naber and Tiffany Green help stock the shelves at the F.I.S.H. Food Pantry. MEGHAN McCOY



F.I.S.H. OF SANCAP, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, continues to touch the lives of many through providing assistance to those in need of supplementing their groceries with various food programs.

F.I.S.H., a social services agency that began more than 30 years ago, has gradually offered additional services and programs for the community as the need arises. In order to educate the community of everything it offers, F.I.S.H. has unveiled a new brand identity.

“For as long as we have been in existence people still think we are just a food pantry,” Operations and Grants Director Maggie Goldsmith said. “They don’t realize all of the other programs, workshops and services that we do. So by spelling out the F, I, S, H and attaching food programs for the F, island based to the I, social services to the S and helping hands to the H, it really gives a broader picture to all the things that we do.”

The organization offers four food programs, all categorized under the letter F of its acronym. There is also a monthly gathering offered through F.I.S.H, which stems around food at George & Wendy’s Seafood Grille.

Meals by F.I.S.H.

The program, which is similar to Meals on Wheels, is the longest offered food program the organization has offered to the community.

The program is utilized by many older individuals that no longer cook, are recovering from an illness or injury, or unable to prepare their own food. Individuals can sign up to receive a meal every day of the week if they so desire.

“A lot of our clients pay the full price by themselves. Some of our clients are subsidized, so a portion is paid by F.I.S.H. and some are 100 percent paid by F.I.S.H. depending on the household situation through investigative discussions with one of our social workers, or office professionals,” Goldsmith said.

Before the clients begin receiving the service, they sit down with F.I.S.H’s social workers and fill out forms to determine if there are any food allergies or specific health conditions that prevents them from eating certain foods.

Bailey’s General Store provides the menu and meals for the program, incorporating the special food needs identified.

“We have a dedicated meal coordinator that changes out quarterly. That person coordinates all the meals with the clients, drivers and Bailey’s. It’s a big job, but somehow it all just works,” she said.

The program uses numerous volunteers who deliver the meals to the client’s home.

“We have one volunteer . . . she knows everybody’s birthday,” Goldsmith said. “She brings them a rose or something special on their birthday. It’s more than here’s your dinner, see you later. It’s visitation. It’s a smiley, friendly face . . . socialization.”

Food Pantry

The pantry, which was officially opened in 2008, stemmed from individuals bringing canned food to F.I.S.H. when they learned someone was hungry.

“As it continued and grew, obviously we needed much more than a shelf, or a box here and there. That’s what made F.I.S.H. realize that a food pantry was the way to go,” Goldsmith said. “We are not a grocery store. It is to help supplement.”

The Harry Chapin Food Bank, community members, businesses and the Sanibel Farmers Market contribute food for the pantry.

Once or twice a week, F.I.S.H. purchases items from the food bank, as well as uses its funds to purchase such staples as eggs, milk, butter and cheese from the store. Bailey’s General Store provides a huge donation of items every Tuesday and vendors from the weekly farmers market donate fresh fruits, among other staples every Sunday.

“It is hard to get fresh food and vegetables and it’s expensive,” she said. “So we are really grateful for all those contributions.”

Community members can drop off items during hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or drop off nonperishable items in the bin located outside of F.I.S.H.’s front door at 2430 Periwinkle Way.

Canned proteins, juice for kids and adults, canned fruit, peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese, paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper are among items that are always needed for the pantry.

An eligibility form based on Harry Chapin Food Bank guidelines, as well as a meeting with F.I.S.H’s two social workers begins the process for those who need assistance.

“If there is hunger, or food insecurities, there is probably something else that goes on in the household. We try to get the whole picture because if there are other services that they can utilize, we want to make sure they take advantage of that,” she said.

Once the client meets with the social workers, they are provided a card and the opportunity to shop the “choice” pantry, which affords the family with the ability to pick what their household enjoys eating.

The clients can shop the pantry as often as they choose.

“We don’t limit the amount of visits that they have because a lot of our clients arrive on bikes. It’s kind of hard to take a week’s worth, or two week’s worth of groceries riding a bike,” she said.

Backpack Food Program

F.I.S.H. partners with Blessings in a Backpack and receives partial funds from the SanCap Kiwanis organization for the weekend Backpack Food Program, which is offered year round. This is the fourth year the organization has offered the service to youngsters who are on the free or reduced lunch program attending The Sanibel School.

“We work very closely with The Sanibel School,” Goldsmith said. “If they see there is a family in need, they identify them through their own processes and reach out to Christine (Swiersz) to see what F.I.S.H. as an agency can do.”

A backpack is prepared by F.I.S.H. volunteers with meals for Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.

“They are kid-friendly, easy to prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks,” she said.

The backpacks are delivered to various locations, or left at F.I.S.H. if the parent chooses to pick it up from there.

Goldsmith said they also offer the program to the preschools on the island.

Holiday Meals Program

The program is offered for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Assistant Program Director Jessi Zeigler, who is in charge of coordinating the food for the program, said F.I.S.H. typically provides assistance for up to 40 people for each of the holidays.

“We have clients who have self-identified, or we identify (those) needing further food assistance for the holidays,” she said.

Zeigler works with Wal-Mart for the food orders to fill the holiday basket, which is a roasting pan. The Thanksgiving pan will be filled with instant mashed potatoes, corn, ingredients to make green bean casserole, stuffing, rolls, gravy, cranberry sauce and yams. The women of Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church bake homemade pies that are also included, as well as a $25 gift card to Bailey’s General Store to purchase protein.

“A lot of times we have different families with different allergies and different religions. Some don’t eat pork. Some families don’t eat meat at all. So it allows the family to get whatever they need,” Zeigler said.

F.I.S.H. also distributes restaurant gift cards for seniors who have been identified with needing assistance for the holidays.

“They don’t necessarily have the capability to make their own meal, so we give them a gift card that will allow them to go to a restaurant that is open and get a nice warm meal for the holiday,” she said.

Once the items are gathered, volunteers separate the food and make individual baskets for F.I.S.H.’s clients. Zeigler said she has three volunteers that sit outside of F.I.S.H. during the Holiday Meals distribution days handing out baskets and gift cards.

“It’s completely volunteer driven,” she said of the program. “It’s a feel good thing for the holidays.”

Chuck Bergstrom with RE/MAX of the Islands, sponsors the entire Thanksgiving program. He said he was taught as a youngster by his grandparents who came to the United States when they were teenagers to give back to the community because they are lucky.

“I’m thrilled to help others. I’m lucky and fortunate to be able to help others,” Bergstrom said. “It’s something I really enjoy because it’s the beginning of the holiday season and it reinforces helping other people.”

For Easter, an additional treat is offered for clients with children. Bunny baskets full of such school supplies as markers, crayons, scissors, paper, pencils and notebooks and a small portion of candy are distributed for the holiday.

“That time of the year parents are running out of school supplies and they don’t have a lot of money for it, so we try to incorporate a lot of school supplies into our baskets,” Zeigler said.

Friendly Faces Luncheon

The luncheon offers an outing that includes socialization and food for the entire community to attend.

At 11:30 a.m. the second Tuesday of every month, individuals gather at George & Wendy’s Seafood Grille, 2499 Periwinkle Way, and select a meal, beverage and desert for $8 from a preselected menu.

“It’s a fun thing to look forward to every month,” Goldsmith said.