By Natalie Strom
The collaborative effort between the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida and Meals of Hope couldn’t be stronger. Closing out September’s Hunger Action Month, the two organizations came together to celebrate their latest joint venture. At an open house held on September 25, guests were treated to a tour of the Meals of Hope warehouse, which it will now be sharing with the Harry Chapin Food Bank.
Based out of Fort Myers, the Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed 15 million pounds of food last year to hungry Southwest Floridians in five counties: Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry and Glades. Working out of only one warehouse based in Lee County, the Harry Chapin Food Bank distributes food to partner agencies such as food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, day care centers, AIDS Projects, senior programs and residential programs.
The Food Bank also utilizes a Mobile Food Pantry thanks in part to the Naples Children and Education Foundation.
As Collier County Food Coordinator for Harry Chapin, Katie Schweikhardt explained, “Their donation and their grant has allowed us to do this Mobile Pantry that we take to Elementary schools twice a week.” Director of Development, Miriam Pereira added, “We bring the truck to a designated location with the help of a partner agency. Families sign in and we open both sides of the truck and put the food out. People make their way through the line and are able to pick out what they want.”
Harry Chapin receives its food from local growers, producers, distributors, retailers and community food drives. The Meals of Hope organization is one of many that provides food to Harry Chapin.
As Meals of Hope President, Stephen Popper, explained, “Meals of Hope is a hands-on approach to feeding people that are hungry in our community. We have over 10,000 volunteers a year that participate. The Harry Chapin Food Bank distributes about 95 percent of what we do. We also give it to the Collier County school system.”
Popper and his volunteers host food-packing events throughout the community where people come together to package bowls of macaroni and cheese and beans and rice which are fortified with soy protein and 21 vitamins and minerals. Since Meals of Hope began in 2007, the non-profit has distributed more than 15 million meals.
Meals of Hope stores its food supplies for packing events at the warehouse but will now be able to host smaller packing events at the location as well. The Harry Chapin Food Bank will have direct access to the Meals of Hope food packages and now has a second location in another county to distribute its food from.
During the event, CEO/President of the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Al Brislain discussed his excitement to be adding a new warehouse in Collier County. “The reason we’re here is because of all the support from the community. The short story I always tell people is when a little boy came in with his mom to get groceries. When his mom came out with two bags of groceries, the little boy said, ‘hey mom, we’re rich again!’ I say this not to make you sad, or to guilt trip you – well, maybe a little – but to make you feel good that the reason that those groceries are there for that family is because of the incredible community support for Meals of Hope, for the Food Bank and for all the pantries and emergency food programs that we serve. It’s a community effort and we are so excited to be here. We are looking at increasing the amount of food that we distribute by 50 percent in the next year to Collier County.”
Popper echoed Brislain’s sentiments stating, “We’ve been around for five years but having this facility here has allowed us to really put down roots. We’re just really looking forward to seeing what we can do with this building and how it’s really going to grow and help all of the citizens of Collier County”
To learn more about these organizations, visit www.harrychapinfoodbank.org and meals-of-hope.org.