by SC Reporter Reanna Haase
Community Housing and Resources, the island’s affordable housing organization, has decorated the island for the second year in a row with painted manatee statues.
CHR’s Manatee Madness 2.0 features 24 different manatee statues sponsored by 24 Sanibel businesses and residents in 24 locations across the island. Laura DeBruce, chairperson of the manatee fundraiser, said they usually hold an annual Mardi Gras party but due to the COVID-19 pandemic they had to get creative with last year’s fundraiser.
“In different cities, like in London and Chicago, they did cows. Where they had beautiful sculptures that artists painted, and they were all over the city. So, we thought that would be a really fun thing for us to do on Sanibel,” DeBruce said.
CHR is combining these two events by continuing Manatee Madness and resuming the Mardi Gras tradition on April 1 at Mudbugs Cajun Kitchen, 1473 Periwinkle Way. A portion of the Mardi Gras party will be dedicated to the finale auction of the manatee statues, where attendees will have the opportunity to bid on and possibly win a statue of their own.
The artists behind these pieces all have various backgrounds and different connections to the island. Debruce said many of the artists are well known in either Sanibel or Fort Myers, but some of them are more commonly known for doing other things on the island.
“We also had, which I think is wonderful, a woman who works at the Sanibel Post office… I for one never knew she was an artist, but this year I discovered that she is in fact an extremely talented artist. So, she made one of our manatees, called ‘Hey Mrs. Postman,’” DeBruce said.
More can be learned about the manatees and the artists behind them on the CHR website. All the artists who have designed and painted these sculptures are doing this fully as volunteers and all have their reasons for participating in this year’s fundraiser.
“You know when you dig deep behind some of the stories behind why it means something to (an) artist or sponsor…We often have found that for some people they may have grown up in affordable housing, or they may have wished that they had an organization or a community that reached out,” DeBruce said.
The CHR website states the organization has 88 homes, 74 rental properties and 14 limited equity ownership houses located across the island. DeBruce said for a community to be a true community there needs to be diversity in all aspects, this means giving people the opportunity to work and live on the island through CHR’s program.
“My favorite thing about this fundraiser is that we pull together businesses, individuals, artists, and the whole community kind of comes together in support of affordable housing. Or rather, as we are liking to say more and more these days, housing that is actually affordable,” DeBruce said. “It feels harder and harder for you know whether, it’s young families or people who are in the service professions to actually be able to come onto this island and live here anymore.”
Community support and fundraising makes up more than 40 percent of CHR’s budget, the proceeds made from the fundraiser will help to continue to increase the amount of affordable housing. Tickets for the Mardi Gras party and the Manatee Madness finale auction can be purchased on CHR’s website.