In March 2018, 4,000 brown paper bags were sent out to the residents of Marco Island. They came with simple instructions: fill a bag with food to help fight hunger in Southwest Florida.
Fast forward to this April. In the boardroom of the Bartos Group of Premiere Plus Realty sat stacks and stacks of brown paper bags. They covered the table and spilled out onto the chairs; they were filled to the brim with nonperishable food items from Publix and Winn-Dixie.
“We’re really delighted with the food that the community has donated,” Chief Executive Officer Mary Bartos said. “We sent out 4,000 postcards and I would say we got 3 to 4 percent back.”
Each year the real estate group, in conjunction with Marketplace Home Mortgage, organizes the island-wide food drive. Their efforts benefit St. Matthew’s House, a nonprofit charity based in Naples. St. Matthew’s operates a food pantry that feeds an estimated 450 hungry people each day.
It may be hard to imagine that in a place like Collier County, many families struggle with food insecurity. When a person or family is food insecure, they do not have reliable access to adequate/nutritious sustenance. According to the Community Foundation of Collier County, approximately 12.5 percent or 42,000 of residents are food insecure. And in the 2015-2016 school year, 62 percent of Collier County Public School students were eligible for free and reduced lunch. For many students, school lunch is the only food they get in a day.
“People need to remember that they really do need help year round. It’s not just at Christmas. It’s not just at Thanksgiving. Those people are in need all the time,” Cheryl Stokes said. Stokes is the mortgage loan officer for Marketplace Home Mortgage.
Summer is a time when the food pantry at the St. Matthew’s House is notoriously low on inventory. Though all the bags have been delivered to the charity, the Bartos Group encourages islanders, especially snowbirds, to donate their nonperishable food by dropping it off at their real estate office at 950 N. Collier Blvd. #201 on Marco Island. The group makes weekly trips to St. Matthew’s House and would be more than willing to drop off extra donations.