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Rotary Happenings: San-Cap Rotary helping to support neighborhood revitalization

By Staff | Jan 17, 2018

There was a lot of energy in the room at the last Rotary Club meeting – don’t know if it was the weather outside or the blast of snowbird Rotarians returning for season.

There is an impressive group of dedicated Rotarians already joining club members in the planning of our upcoming Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club’s Annual Arts & Crafts Fair on Feb. 17-18. Proceeds from the fair allows our Rotary Club to fund many local community non-profit projects. Sanibel-Captiva Rotary was proud to have financially contributed to the rebuilding of the Sanibel Community House, with the club funding $75,000 over five years and snowbird Rotarians funding $25,000.

But we also go further with our support within our local community on Island, in Lee County and in Southwest Florida. One of the projects Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club financially invested in 2017 was a project spearheaded by the Fort Myers Sunrise Rotary Club. Joining four other area Rotary Clubs, we participated in the future of our neighboring community of Pine Manor. Invited this week to speak to the club was Robin Gretz, Pine Manor Improvement Association president and Sunrise Rotary member.

The Pine Manor Community has come a long way, baby. At one time, this area of Fort Myers was called “Crime Manor.” It didn’t start off that way. Pine Manor was developed to house young professionals by providing affordable housing in the area. However, as time went by, they could afford larger homes and they moved to other communities. This affordable housing area was aging and less desirable for ownership, but it did fill the housing gap for renters and lower income residents.

Unfortunately, a crime element moved in, too. Pine Manor became a neighborhood where many people were afraid to live, visit or travel through. Something had to be done. Families lived there, young and old lived there, and they were struggling to maintain a safe environment to live and grow up in. The police and government agencies were trying to help. However, the community needed their own advocates and that is when the Pine Manor Improvement Association stepped up and developed an incredible idea.

The idea came somewhat out of necessity as the Pine Manor neighborhood was a “food desert” – there were no nearby grocers or convenience stores to buy food, so residents had to struggle to bring food home. How about using some of the vacate overgrown land in the neighborhood to create a community garden space? The Pine Manor Improvement Association sought help from government and private sources to help seed the project with funding. In 2014, the association received a government grant of $24,000 to help with the project.

Today, the Pine Manor Community Garden houses 25 garden plots/boxes with more planned for the future. Amazing things are happening; residents have taken the neighborhood back from the criminals. Residents are prideful of their gardens and the community spirit is rising. Neighbors work alongside neighbors creating a caring community toward each other. Gardeners grow their own food, share some with others in the neighborhood and even supplement their incomes by selling fruits and vegetable at local farmers markets.

The association has also initiated a culinary program – open to the community – to educate food industry professionals for Southwest Florida’s ever-growing restaurant business. The garden often supplies fruits, vegetables and herbs to the program. Graduates are in-demand and the program provides a career path for the neighborhood’s youth. The culinary kitchen is also used to teach nutrition and other food-related classes. One resident of Pine Manor uses the kitchen to bake dog biscuits to sell at Farmer’s Markets wow, what an idea.

In 2016, the association acquired and cleared land adjacent to the garden and Hunter Park – viewable from Summerlin Road – to create a designated “food forest” in Pine Manor. Pine Manor residents and volunteers from neighboring areas are coming together to plant tropical fruit trees. Florida Gulf Coast University environmental science students and other students at the university have been instrumental in the project and have taken a vested interest in its success.

People are not afraid to go into Pine Manor anymore and residents have taken control of their neighborhood. Maybe the new moniker for the neighborhood should be “Pine Manor, the Green Acres of Fort Myers.”

For more information on the Pine Manor Improvement Association, call 239-275-5180.

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are always welcome to attend.