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Food bank offers help at civic center

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Sep 9, 2020


Cars started arriving at the Lee Civic Center’s Tinsley Pavilion just before sunrise Thursday, willing to wait up to three hours to get enough food to last through the weekend.

By the time the Harry Chapin Food Bank drive-thru food distribution opened at 10 a.m., up to 200 cars were waiting for food bank volunteers to sign them in and pack the back of their vehicles with boxes of food before sending them on their way.

The event takes place every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon. The Lee Civic Center is among one of nearly a dozen distributions the Harry Chapin Food Bank does to distribute food to families in Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties.

Since the pandemic, the food bank has become a lifeline for many.

Mary Wozniak, marketing and communications manager at Harry Chapin, said the long lines at these drive-thru events have become the norm.

“People start lining up around 7 a.m. or earlier and we will start 30 minutes early because there are so many people. I talked with someone at the civic center who took a nap in his front seat,” Wozniak said. People need food and they’ll do what they need to get it.”

The pandemic has helped remove any embarrassment of accepting hand up regarding food, since so many people aren’t working, Wozniak said,

“The whole point of them coming there is to get food and they don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed. We’re there to help them,” Wozniak said.

The need for food has increased 80 percent since the start of the pandemic in March and has been sustained since. Wozniak compared it to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which, while intense, was relatively brief.

Each family gets a pre-packed box of non-perishable food that should feed a family of four for five days. It includes things like peanut butter, pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, and they also provide fresh produce and sometimes milk, when available.

“We give them whatever we have to supplement the boxes of food. At the civic center, we usually give 400 boxes to families,” Wozniak said.

Among the largest drive-thru distributions are one at Copperhead Golf Course in Lehigh Acres, which serves about 600 families, and another at the Golden Gate Community Center, which brings in more than 700.

In North Fort Myers, there are other places for people to go. The Suncoast Neighborhood Task Force holds a food pantry on the second and fourth Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to noon at the Community Center at 2241 Case Lane.

The Iglesia de Dios John at 16521 Slater Road holds a pantry on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month from 4 to 6 p.m.

All Souls Episcopal pantry, at 14640 N. Cleveland Ave., is open every Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m.

Bootstrap Ministry, at 2691 N. Pine Island Road, has a weekly pantry Monday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Fort Myers Spanish SDA Church, at 701 Camellia Drive, holds a weekly pantry Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Lee County Civic Center is at 11831 Bayshore Road.

For more information on the Harry Chapin Food Bank, visit harrychapinfoodbank.org.