One hundred and twenty-four families received an assortment of free packaged and fresh food Wednesday afternoon at the Pine Island United Methodist Church as part of the Summer Mobile Food Program.
Chris Robinson, Harry Chapin Food Bank food resource manager, said the Summer Mobile Food Program is a collaborative effort between the United Way, Harry Chapin Food Bank, the Salvation Army and Beacon of H.O.P.E.
Robinson said the idea behind the food pantry is to help folks become educated about the onset of type 2 Diabetes. He said type 2 Diabetes is linked with underemployed and/or unemployed individuals because they are not able to access healthy food options. Parents are faced with either purchasing healthy food for a few family members, Robinson said, or enough food for everyone, which may not include buying fresh food.
Noah Cicoria, a member of the Pine Island United Methodist Church youth group, provided a helping hand Wednesday as he helped individuals fill their shopping carts full of food.
Linda Pankow of United Way 211 said this is the third year they have done the summer mobile program. She said the idea rose from the amount of free and reduced lunches that were being sought by families.
Pankow said they felt that if they did not offer the program during the summer the youngsters and their families would not have meals.
Four volunteers from Publix were also among those offering community support Wednesday, helping lead people in the right direction, along with handing out food.
Tina Lostracco, who has been with Publix for 17 years, said they were at the event because it is part of the company's mission, to always be involved in the community.
Zach Robinson, a 23-year employee, said they will talk about what occurred at the Wednesday event with their associates once they return to the store. He took pictures during the event to bring back to the store as well, so he had visuals with the stories that unfolded.
Steve Wild, a 20-year employee of Publix, said the company is very involved with United Way and wherever the need is they go.
Individuals filled the seats and hallway of the Pine Island United Methodist Church waiting their turn to receive their tickets for food from the Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile pantry, along with taking advantage of the free health clinic early Wednesday afternoon.
"We joyfully like to participate in what He is already doing," Pine Island United Methodist Church Rev. Edward Kellum said of what Christ commands.
He said providing the space for the Free Food and Health Fair to take place at the church goes along with their mission "to be the hands and feet of Christ to the island, the Cape and the world."
The mobile program travels throughout the summer months with targeted areas of Alva, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Lehigh Acres, Bonita Springs and Estero/San Carlos Park this year.
Pankow said they helped more than 200 families in Cape Coral and 300 families in Bonita Springs so far this summer.
Last summer, June, July and August, 167,00 pounds of food were given away to 11,000 people during the Summer Mobile Food Program.
Beacon of H.O.P.E. case manager Joanne Merritt said they helped a total of 318 people Wednesday through 124 families. She said they had 11 families with six or more family members in their household. The program also attracted 18 families that were not pre-registered for the event.
Two trucks, one refrigerated with an assortment of meat from the Harry Chapin Food Bank, drove into the back of the Pine Island Methodist Church parking lot as vendors set up tables to offer free screenings within the church. Hot dogs, beans and potato chips were also available in the kitchen for those who wanted lunch.
The Summer Mobile Food Program helps in providing healthy food options to families, which included fresh cabbage, frozen poultry, potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and wheat bread, along with Tropicana juice on Wednesday.
Betsy Haesemeyer, executive director of Beacon of H.O.P.E., said folks had the opportunity of walking away with enough food for the weekend, if not more.
She said the free health fair also gave individuals the opportunity to have their vision, hearing, blood pressure and blood sugar levels checked. They also had the chance to seek out other resources that are available to them within the county.
She said if a follow-up appointment was needed, they set it up during the fair for another day with the right healthcare professional.
Daisy Ellis of the Salvation Army said due to its partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank and United Way, they are able to provide diabetic screening, along with information about proper nutrition.
"It's a one-stop shop for social health service," Ellis said of the health fair because it provides the best resources for these identified clients.
The health fair, she said, is intended to not let people fall through the cracks, by identifying elevated blood sugar and blood pressure to eliminate emergency room visits from occurring.
Ellis said they typically see about a third of the individuals who preregister for the event.
"One out of three are screened," she said. "We are able to identify a small percentage of abnormal blood sugars."
The fair also allowed the Beacon of H.O.P.E. to share what it has to offer to the community.
"It gives us the opportunity to say, 'Do you know who we are?'" Haesemeyer said.
She said the free food day and health fair produces new clients for the Beacon, along with a chance for them to access the needs in the community.
Once individuals went through the health fair, they were then given the opportunity to shop around the Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile food pantry with a shopping cart in hand.
The outreach program, Robinson said, would not possible without the generosity of the residents of Southwest Florida. He said Pine Island also has a tremendous history of reaching out to neighbors in need.
Merritt said the Beacon was able to make up 20 bags of canned, boxed and bagged food that were distributed through Meals on Wheels clients Saturday.
"The remainder of the food was picked up by two very grateful volunteers of the Pine Island Food Pantry," she said. "Their feeling was that it should get them through the summer."