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Gulf & Main Magazine

Harry Chapin Food Bank Prepares For Busy End To 2018

Aug 07, 2018 09:16PM ● By Kevin

Harry Chapin Food Bank's Family Volunteer Day in Lee County. Photo courtesy of Harry Chapin Food Bank.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida has a lot to celebrate throughout the rest of this year, including its 35th anniversary. Founded in 1983, the nonprofit organization aims to lead Southwest Florida in the fight to end hunger. It serves Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties, rescuing, inspecting, transporting and distributing donated food and other grocery products to more than 150 partner agencies that provide direct services to those in need.

Each quarter, the organization holds a family volunteer day, with the next one coming up on Saturday, Aug. 25, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. We caught up with Miriam Pereira, director of development, to find out more information on the event, as well as additional things to come, in this exclusive Q&A.

Gulf & Main Magazine: We see you have another family volunteer event coming up. Can you tell us more about it and some of the history behind it?

Miriam Pereira: The event occurs on Saturday and we're doing it at both of our locations in Naples and Fort Myers. Families with kids 10 and older are invited to attend and help us sort and repack food, as well as some other tasks. Interested families just need to apply online and fill out the application. Children who participate need to come with parents or a guardian/adult.

The reason we're doing this event is because so many schools require community service of their students. In many cases, there's an age limit to local community service projects - typically 14-16. We wanted to open it up to younger kids who also have to do community service. On Saturdays, the warehouse isn't open. So, we can have them come in and work in the warehouse when there aren't any forklifts or palette jacks moving about.

We started doing these about a year and a half ago. We did about five of them. Our plan was to do one per quarter, but it will now be two per quarter, because of our new facility in Naples, which opened in October 2017.

GM: What has changed over the course of the event's lifespan?

Pereira: The format really hasn't changed all that much. It's really just to get kids engaged with the food bank and have them learn more about the need in the community. We rotate them through three different activities. They'll sort produce for a while, then we'll have them draw bags and cards for the senior bag program. When senior clients receive bags of food, they are decorated and have handwritten messages from the children and their parents. We try to connect the child to the client that way. Then there's a nutritional component where we have nutritional fact sheets. Children can color those in and learn more about nutrition.

If i had to average it out, I think probably about 30 people attend each one, on average.

GM: Tell us about the facility in Naples.

Pereira: We were renting some space down in Naples for quite a few years and we needed permanent space because we were growing. In February, we found this office/call center space, which was vacant for some time. We were renting it and were able to convert it to office and warehouse space. It's about 13,500 square feet, which is much smaller than our main warehouse in Fort Myers. That facility is about 55,000 square feet. 

We pack our Care and Share Senior Food Bag Program with our volunteers at our Naples location. We do other food sorting down there, too. We have a room available free of charge to the community, which is good for community awareness and volunteer events. We moved into that space after Hurricane Irma hit in October of last year.

GM: What else is coming up for the food bank?

Pereira: Hunger Action Month is in September. We do various events for that, including tours of both locations. Our biggest fundraiser of the year is the WINK Feeds Families Hunger Walk on the third Saturday in January at Miromar Outlets in Estero. So, we're in the process of planning that. Now is as good a time as any if you're forming a team for the walk and are interested to get that started.

We also think we're going to hit our 200 millionth pound of cumulative food distributed at some point in October. We're watching those numbers to see when we think we'll hit it. We'll probably do a mobile pantry in celebration of that. We'll take the truck out to the community and do direct distribution. We may do something different once we figure out when exactly we are going to hit that mark.

GM: And how about yourself? How did you find yourself in this position? What makes you passionate about this cause?

Pereira: I have been with the food bank for six and a half years. I used to be a reporter and editor before that. I was familiar with the food bank because of the stories we worked on at the newspaper at the time. I volunteered once or twice at the food bank with my husband, who's a teacher, and would bring his students over to volunteer. I wanted to make a career change. I've always been around food. I was raised in the restaurant business. I wanted to do something a little different. Next thing I know, I'm working at the food bank! I was able to use the communication skills that I learned along the way in journalism and apply them to the work here at the food bank, which is to try to get the word out, bring more awareness about hunger in the community and raise more money to help fund our programs.

GM: Any last thoughts?

Pereira: Just a big thanks to the community for its continued support of our organization over the past 35 years. We've come a long way and that's because of the community.