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Feed the 5000 Now seeking donations to feed Lee County’s hungry

By Staff | Mar 21, 2018

TIFFANY REPECKI Michael and Sharon Bugler started the Feed the 5000 Now campaign six years ago.

One out of seven adults and one out of four children residing in Lee County do not know where their next meal will come from, but something as simple as a donation of $1 a day can change that.

Six years ago, Sanibel residents Michael and Sharon Bugler started the Feed the 5000 Now. The campaign partners with a handful of local organizations to turn a $1 donation into $8 worth of food, feeding one person for a day. The couple came up with the idea after fastening for the first time.

“I’ve never been that far from food in my life,” Michael Bugler said of drinking only water for days.

Feeling the pains of hunger for the first time, the couple began to wonder how many people were facing such a problem and suffering. After doing some research, Bugler was shocked by the figures.

Of over 600,000 people in Lee County, an estimated 92,000 are food insecure meaning they do not know when they will eat next. Of Lee’s 122,000 children, 32,000 are food insecure or 26 percent.

“We live in this vacation bubble, like Disney World,” he said of the islands. “Everything’s OK.”

When the couple first initiated the campaign, the Recession was still impacting the local economy. Bugler pointed out that as the economy turns around, everyone thinks everything is OK again.

“And that’s not the case,” he said.

“We’re trying to spread the word of how big the problem is,” Bugler added.

He explained that the “survival salary” for a family of four in Lee is about $49,000. After deducting rent and other basic living costs, it leaves about $600 a month for groceries, toiletries and supplies.

“That’s when the food pantries supplement,” Bugler said.

Last year, Feed the 5000 Now raised approximately $50,000 in donations, which went to the men’s Rescue Mission is downtown Fort Myers, the Salvation Army and the South Fort Myers Food Panty.

“It’s grown slightly every year,” he said, adding that this year’s goal is to raise enough money to provide $500,000 worth of food to those in need. “We’re hoping to raise $63,000 this year.”

In addition, the couple is hoping to add a fourth beneficiary to the list the Midwest Food Bank in North Fort Myers. The hope is to support a weekend backpack program for students who rely on their schools for meals or a summer program for when they are not in school and have no access to food.

Asked about how they chose the receipient organizations, the couple explained that they had been familiar with the organizations through their church, the Sanibel Community Church, or people from their church were familiar with the organization. But, the couple also did its own research on each.

“We’re trying to deal with groups that aren’t well supported,” Bugler said.

The recipients also get food from the Harry Chapin Food Bank, so every dollar is stretched.

On March 24, the couple is partnering on the campaign with the Cantina Captiva Restaurant for the first time. He explained that visitors to the establishment sign dollar bills and put them on the walls. In the past, owner Sandy Stilwell has taken down the dollars to donate to various causes and charities.

After learning about Feed the 5000 Now, she decided to donate one wall of dollars.

“We’re all going to harvest this wall,” Bugler said.

The couple typically pushes the campagin for one month out of the year, asking people to donate $1 per day or $30 total for the month. It kicked off March 1 this year, however, people can donate year-round.

“Putting the dollar aside each day reminds you of the problem, and the power of $1,” he said.

To donate to Feed the 5000 Now, mail a check to the Sanibel Community Church, at 1740 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL 33957 and note “Feed the 5000 Now” in the memo line. People can also visit sanibelchurch.com and donate via “Online Giving” under the Resources tab; again, note the initiative.

For more information, contact Michael and Sharon Bugler at 239-472-5574 or thebuglers@hotmail.com. Details on the campaign can be found at feedthe5000now.com.