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Feed The 5000 Now gearing up again, asking for community’s help

By Staff | Mar 2, 2016

Sharon and Mike Bugler. MEGHAN McCOY

A couple began an initiative on the island five years ago after witnessing firsthand what it felt like not to eat for three days.

“I felt compelled to fast, which was a very strange thing for me to decide to do,” Mike Bugler said about what began the initiative. “We fasted for three days and during that time I had never felt so hungry in my life. As I was feeling hungry, I began to realize that there are people that feel that way.”

His wife, Sharon, asked him what they should eat when they broke the fast.

“I was saying I don’t know, shrimp or steak, and that crassness of what I was saying really struck me that I have the ability to decide what I am going to eat tomorrow,” Mike said. “We started to eat and I said ‘you know what this isn’t right because we have the luxury.’ We are not millionaires, but we have the luxury of knowing we can purchase food. There must be people that feel as hungry as we felt, but they don’t have that luxury.”

The guilt consumed them and they ended up not eating after all. That pivotal moment pushed them into finding a way to somehow help the situation.

“When you have not eaten it does amazing things to your body and incredible things to your mind,” Mike said.

After the couple began conducting research, they realized Lee County had a significant problem with food insecurity, which ignited a new passion of putting money aside for the less fortunate. They began by each of them putting $2 aside each day for three months. If they had guests, or a dinner party, they would put an additional $2 aside for everyone who joined them at the table.

“The idea was when we got to eat, someone else gets to eat,” Mike said. “If we had six of us for dinner, we just imagined that there was 12 of us for dinner.”

The Bugler’s eventually found information through the Harry Chapin Food Bank that revealed $1 a day can buy $6 worth of food. That finding lead them to launching Feed The 5000 Now.

“The simple concept if you put $1 aside every day, someone who wasn’t going to get to eat will get to eat,” Mike said.

Unfortunately the further they dug, the clearer the problem Lee County has with food insecurity revealed itself. He said there are 92,000 people in Lee County who do not know where their next meal will be coming from.

Five years ago the couple brought their idea of putting money aside every day to Sanibel Community Church where others helped them raise money through their initiative, Feed The 5000 Now.

“In the first two years we raised about $80,000 in food,” Mike said, adding that “the dollar is basically a throw away amount. That throw away amount could feed someone for a day.”

Sharon said that’s especially true when people are spending $3 or $4 on a Starbucks coffee.

Last year the couple, as well as the community, raised money during the month of February for Feed The 5000 Now. Individuals were invited to put aside $28 for the amount of days in February, $90 for three months, or $365 for the entire year.

“You know that someone will eat the whole year. Every time you eat, someone else is eating,” Mike said.

Last year’s February push caught on, raising $50,000, which bought $300,000 worth of food. The couple hopes to surpass that amount this year.

Due to their passion, the couple wants Feed The 5000 Now to become a true island initiative. The Bugler’s encourage the community to help them raise money during the month of March. Checks, made payable to SCC with Feed the 5000 Now written on the memo line, can be sent to P.O. Box 1011, Sanibel, FL 33957.

The initiative continues to be near and dear to the couple’s heart because there are two issues that remain.

Mike said reading the local newspapers it’s clear that there is still a need to fill food pantry shelves, especially when season ends. The other phenomenon, he said, began after the economy tanked four or five years ago. Mike said people donated, but now people are under the impression that since the economy is doing better everyone must be doing better.

“There is a bigger gap emerging from the haves to have nots,” Mike said.

The first two years, Feed The 5000 Now decided to begin supporting the Mens Rescue Mission in Downtown Fort Myers, which serves between 300 and 400 meals a day. Salvation Army Food Pantry, which serves 4,463 families every month, also became a beneficiary of the funds raised.

Last year, the Bugler’s added F.I.S.H. to the organizations that benefit from the money raised.

“A lot of people think we live in this bubble . . . everyone that lives here is a millionaire. We are on this vacation island, but people on this island have a need,” Mike said.

This year they are adding Southwest Florida Food Pantry Coalition to the lineup of organizations to assist.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank has set up an account for Feed The 5000 Now allowing the Bugler’s with the ability to allocate money to the respected organizations. Mike said with an account set up there, Harry Chapin Food Bank can pull funds for food.

“It’s very clean,” he said. “We have given our word that every penny will go for food. We know that if it goes into the Harry Chapin Food Bank it can only be drawn down for food. They are very supportive of us and we obviously want to support them.”

Mike said the miracle of working with the Harry Chapin Food Bank is they can turn $1 into $6 worth of food.

“There’s an expression, the sum of a lot of little things is not a little thing. It’s not (just) a dollar, it’s $6 worth of food. It’s that multiplication. Once you get your brain around that you realize how much you can do with a little,” he said.

Since the initiative began in 2011, more than $500,000 has been purchased in food to support the local agencies. Sharon wants to thank everyone who has donated to their cause.

For more information, visit www.feedthe5000now.com.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.