Three and half years ago, four ladies thought it may be a good idea to start a local food pantry. They kept hearing stories about children coming to school hungry on Mondays. Friends thawt were teachers explained that 41% of children attending Tommy Barfield Elementary School were considered economically needy, while a whopping 92% of children attending Manatee Elemen-tary School were economically needy (see the Collier County Schools website for more infor-mation). The teachers and PTA volunteers were stuffing backpacks on Fridays with food items so that the students would not go hungry on the weekends. It got them wondering, “What do these children and families do during the summer?” The idea of a food pantry seemed to be the answer. On January 9, 2016, Jo Anne Lundquist, Vicki Johnson, Liz Pecora, and Nancy Kot commandeered a storage closet and opened its doors to the public, with just a few racks of food. No customers came.
They quickly realized they needed to spread the word, so they started sending flyers to other churches and schools nearby. In April, 2016, six families came. They met with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter who actively builds homes in the Naples Manor area off U.S. 41. That is when the pantry really started to grow. Word of mouth spread the information and just three years later, the pantry has experienced exponential growth. It now occupies the entire building located at 1450 Winterberry Drive.
Every second and fourth Saturday of the month, Our Daily Bread Food Pantry welcomes its guests from 10:00 am until noon. Guests start lining up early and most volunteers start their shift at 8:30am. Pat, an 83 year old devoted volunteer, starts his day at 5:30am, manning the sign-in table. Every guest completes a form asking for household information which ultimately is entered and tracked in the food pantry’s database. A lottery number is assigned to each family and the wait begins. Once their number is called, each member of the family receives one brown paper bag which can be filled with any food item needed, no questions asked.
Their well-oiled operation is set up like a little grocery store, complete with shopping carts and personal shoppers/volunteers. Guests snake through aisles of canned food and non-perishable food items, and proceed to an additional room with freezers for meat, and then onto a bread room. Once their shopping is over, almost all guests ask for prayer and fellowship with the staff volunteers. “There is a beautiful bond between our staff members and our guests. True friend-ships form,” said Jo Anne Lundquist, founding member. The Senior Men’s softball team jump in as cart assistants, running the carts back to the front of the building for the next guests in line! “Its a team effort for sure,” explained board member and fellow Goodlander, Liz Pecora.
To prepare for these Saturdays, a lot of “behind the scenes” work must be completed. Volunteers unload the donations, weigh, record, and date them. They mark out barcodes and then rotate, stock, and shelve the pantry. Our Daily Bread Food Pantry is a partner agency with the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Collier Harvest, and the Midwest Food Bank. It receives food donations from the three local grocery stores: Winn-Dixie and the two Publix stores on the island. It is sup-ported by ten local churches and over fifty different businesses and organizations. Over half of their income comes from churches and the community with the other half coming from grants. The tireless volunteers vet all the donations before the doors open on the Pantry Saturdays, how it all gets done is a feat straight from Heaven. “The volunteers know exactly how to run the pan-try, and some guests that have used the Pantry in the past have now become some of our best volunteers, serving as translators for those guests who only speak Spanish and Creole,” explained founding member, Nancy Kot.
Being the only food pantry between Everglades City and the Naples courthouse, the pantry served almost 30,000 guests this past year. Services have expanded, with mobile outreach pan-tries that visit Manatee Elementary School and 6L Farms’ work camps. They also organize senior luncheons to promote friendship and a quieter atmosphere for seniors to shop.
Interested in helping out? This is a great time to give, as an anonymous donor has offered to MATCH up to $10,000 in donations. Donations can be dropped off 24 hours in the deck boxes located outside the Auburndale pantry entrance. Or mail a check to: Our Daily Bread Food Pan-try, 1450 Winterberry Drive, Marco Island, FL 34145. Learn more about its mobile pantry and senior outreach services by contacting them at 239-259-5188 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stacia has a husband and two sons, and has resided in Goodland since 2007, and in Florida since 1999. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri.