By Don Manley
Neil Snyder is eagerly counting down the days until he and hundreds of other volunteers will be busily doing their part to help fight hunger at the annual Meals of Hope Packaging Event.
Set for 8:30 to 10:30 AM, Saturday, November 14 at the Marco Island Charter Middle School gym, Snyder is expecting 550 to 600 people to turn out to package 225,000 meals to be dispensed to needy Collier County families for the Christmas holiday season and beyond.
“It’s just a very busy and exciting time,” said the man who is also known as “Captain Hope” for his efforts as chairman of Marco Island Meals of Hope Packaging Event.
Last year, more than 210,000 meals were packaged by about 600 volunteers over the 90-minute event.
As with previous years, the volunteers will be assembling packages of macaroni and cheese dinners, fortified with soy protein and 21 vitamins and minerals. Each package will contain enough of the staple for six meals. The packages are distributed, primarily, by the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida to schools and other service organizations in Collier County, to be provided to disadvantaged youths and their families. Some packages are also provided to the students when the school year ends to provide sustenance over summer vacation.
Snyder said the need for such assistance within the county is great.
“The statistics are very similar for last few years, about 65 percent of students (roughly 30,000) are on free or reduced meal programs and that 90,000 residents of Collier County are food challenged, meaning that the parents have to make the choice of whether they put food on the table or pay the rent,” he said. “We’re just so very fortunate that the community has embraced this project.”
Founded in 2007 by Steve Popper of Naples, Meals of Home is a nonprofit organization that packages and distributes meals through a network of U.S.-based food banks called Feeding America. While great deal of the food is distributed throughout the five counties serviced by the local Harry Chapin Food Bank, the organization also provides food for people elsewhere in Florida, and from Georgia and North Carolina to Ohio, Illinois and Michigan.
Marco Island Meals of Hope raises funds through monthly After-Five gatherings it holds at restaurants on the island, along with two 50-50 raffles held at Stan’s Idle Hour in Goodland, one in March and one in November. The drawing for the current 50-50 will be held November 1 at Stan’s. The final After-Five will be on November 10 at The SpeakEasy restaurant on North Collier Boulevard.
“We are just about where we need to be with our fundraising efforts,” Snyder said of the organization’s 2015 goal of $45,000.
The Sunrise and Noontime Rotary clubs and the Kiwanis Club of Marco Island will all have volunteers assisting with the packaging. Snyder said about 250 people will probably register to volunteer on the organization’s website, feedcollier.org, while several hundred more will show up on the day of the event, as is tradition.
“I expect it’s going to be a very strong turnout,” said Snyder, who is a Marco-based attorney. He said the packaging events attract a lot of regulars and it’s common for one person to sign up and bring several others on packaging day. Students from schools on the island and Lely High School usually comprise more than half the corps of volunteers.
“We have a lot of people who are up North right now and they have let me know that they’re looking forward to the packaging event,” he added.
If you go:
The 2015 Meals of Hope Packaging Event
When: 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM, Saturday, November 14 Where: Marco Island Charter Middle School gym, 1401 Trinidad Ave., Marco Island