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Banner year for island charities

December 26, 2012
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Pine Island Eagle

Many of the organizations on the island, which donated thousands of dollars and services back into the community, had a successful year in 2012.

The Kiwanis Club of Greater Pine Island donated $12,000 to the Beacon of H.O.P.E. for its Community Learning Center, $12,000 in scholarships, $1,000 to F.I.S.H. (Fellow Islanders Sending Help), $1,500 to the Pine Island Scouting Troops and approximately $3,800 to small miscellaneous causes for the youngsters on Pine Island.

President Tonya Player said the club hosts the annual Fall Festival and the Junior Olympics every year. She said they made donations to the Pine Island Little League, Boy Scouts, Outstanding Kids plaques/awards for Pine Island Elementary School students, F.I.S.H., Beacon of H.O.P.E., Mariner High School Grad Night, Pine Island Elementary School Spring Fest, Bobby Holloway Fishing Tournament, gazebo and ground maintenance and college scholarships during 2012.

"Our total budgeted community donations are over $33,000 for this year," Player said.

The Matlacha Hookers returned $31,240 to the community as of the third week of December. Although there are many organizations the Hookers donate to, one of their biggest benefactors is Pine Island Elementary School.

This year the Pine Island Elementary Fishing Tournament & Derby raised $14,000 for the school. The second largest amount of money given back to the community was $6,000 through the Hookers' scholarship fund.

A large fund-raiser for the Hookers at the end of the year is its Christmas caroling, which is donated to F.I.S.H. The first weekend raised more than $1,600 for F.I.S.H.

The Matlacha Mariners also contributed a large amount of money to the community this year. A total of $29,182 was donated with the largest sum of money going to scholarship winners - $10,000. Other large donations - all $5,000 - went to F.I.S.H., Pine Island Elementary School and the Food Pantry.

The Beacon of H.O.P.E. also had a successful year. Its biggest money-maker during 2012 was the Thrift Store, which earned $107,000.

The Beacon received $50,000 in donations, which was made through the Kiwanis Club of Greater Pine Island Casino Night proceeds, St. John's Episcopal Church funds for the Community Learning Center and individual and local business donations.

Contributions in kind - accounting, legal, marketing and IT services - amounted to $38,000 and United Way contributed $15,000.

The Beacon received $27,00 in grants from Franklin Square, which helps fund the Thrift Store salaries, and SWFL Community Foundation, which helps in funding general payroll expenses.

The Beacon's fund-raising efforts during the Holiday House of H.O.P.E. generated $10,000.

Volunteers, which are essential in the Beacon's day-to-day operations, equaled 18,200 hours during 2012. That amount of hours is equivalent to $260,000, assuming that the hourly pay is $14.25, which is the average for similar jobs.

The largest amount of volunteer hours, 11,100, was contributed through community service hours. The Community Learning Center had 2,800 hours, the Thrift Store generated 2,300 hours and 2,000 hours were spent in administration and fund-raising.

There were 6,200 client visits conducted to provide social services through the Beacon's Access Government Social Service community program. Two hundred clients received free use of computers, fax, copiers and phones during 2012.

Seven hundred and fifty clients received $19,00 in financial services and 120 clients received get wellness evaluations and case management services.

The Beacon provides 40 clients with 10,000 nutritious meals and home visits through its Meals on Wheels program. The organization also provided 275 clients with employment assistance in 2012.

Seventy-two students received 12,910 hours of mentoring, tutoring and teaching through the Community Learning Center in 2012.

As of Dec. 19, F.I.S.H. answered and assisted a total of 1,271 calls. The organization has provided emergency financial assistance to 196 clients for a total of $39,759, which is a 28 percent increase from 2011 due to the Low Income Energy Assistance Program that is sponsored by the county expiring last year.

President Dianne Higgins said F.I.S.H. also loaned those in need more than 300 pieces of mobility equipment.

One hundred and fifty two children received new school clothes at the beginning of the year, which was a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

The Christmas Basket Brigade program provided new toys for 102 families with 224 children for Christmas. The program also assisted 48 seniors, singles and couples, which received assistance from the Hookers.

Higgins said F.I.S.H. also partnered with the Food Pantry for $4,000 to provide Winn-Dixie gift cards at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The organization also sponsored two Pine Island United Methodist Church participants in the Harry Chapin Hunger Walk to benefit the children of Pine Island Elementary School.

"Our volunteers logged many hours providing non-emergency transportation for island residents for doctors visits and essential shopping/errands," Higgins said.

The Food Pantry, which is open twice a week except for the holidays, served 1,847 families during 2012, which totaled 5,115 clients. The pantry has 40 volunteers who donated more than 3,000 hours during 2012 to keep it operating.

In addition, the Food Pantry, as well as F.I.S.H., provided more than 200 families with a turkey and fixings for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"We would like to thank all the private donors, churches, clubs, service organizations and Winn-Dixie for their support," Food Pantry President Dave Grueser said. "Special thanks to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church for providing space and utilities for the pantry operation."

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America Inc., which formed in 2012, also had a successful year. The 501c3 organization provided assistance to 35 wounded warriors and 24 caregivers and their family members on three organized warrior and caregiver retreats this year. Wounded Warrior Anglers also provided assistance to 59 wounded warriors on individual weekend fishing outings, which included multiple warriors attending each trip.

The organization also held its first fishing tournament during 2012, which raised $690.55, which will help more wounded warriors and their caregivers.

President David Souders said the group's goal for 2013 is to provide assistance to more wounded warriors, caregivers and children. In addition, he said they would also like to operate two successful fund-raising fishing tournaments Memorial and Veterans Day weekends.

Operation Open Arms saw a decline of the number of United States service members it has provided assistance for in 2012.

OOA founder Capt. John "GiddyUp" Bunch said OOA numbers are down from the years of the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

"During the Iraq, Afghanistan years, OOA averaged over 300 U.S. troops per year," he said. "We are down to about 168 for Southwest Florida in 2012."

Since 2005, 2,300 U.S. servicemen and women have received services in Southwest Florida and Maryland. The organization has extended benefits in excess of $8.5 million since 2005.

Some of the services servicemen and women have received include a limo ride to the airport, free hotel stay for one week, fishing charter offshore and inshore, tickets to a professional sporting game, emergency dental work, a trip to Disney, dinner at a restaurant and weddings.

Bunch said in 2013, OOA is transitioning to the life saving business, by focusing on treatment for PTSD.

Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary had 58 adoptions during 2012, eight of which found homes during December. Six adoptions, one of which was returned, were made due to the Cat of the Week, a weekly feature run in the Eagle.

The sanctuary took in 105 cats during 2012.



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