by SC Reporter Reanna Haase
FISH of SanCap has been serving the Sanibel and Captiva Islands community for four decades. It is home to the islands only food pantry and lends a hand to anyone in need. The organization began as neighbors helping neighbors and that remains true 40 years later.
In a time of crisis, FISH has helped many individuals and families pay bills, such as rent and utilities, through its Helping Hands, the financial assistance program. FISH President and CEO Maggi Feiner said the recent natural disasters and health pandemic led to a huge need for the organization’s essential programs and services.
“We had the water quality crisis, which literally shut down this island and hurt people who were just coming out of Hurricane Irma,” said Feiner. “Then comes COVID.”
FISH held a pop-up COVID vaccine site at the Sanibel Community House, as many of the island’s senior population were struggling to navigate the scheduling system. “We were actually able to bring a pop-up site, which no one else was able to do, so that is a huge accomplishment,” said Feiner.
A common misconception about FISH is its programs and services are only for low-income individuals and families. But they are for all income levels because, as Feiner said, everyone needs a little help sometimes.
And a crisis is never too small for FISH. Executive Director Maria Espinoza shared the first phone call the organization ever received. It was from a woman who was having a crisis in her kitchen and just needed a helping hand.
“She had a mouse running around,” said Espinoza. “It was taking over her kitchen and she couldn’t get the exterminator to come out. She had the money (for the exterminator), but it was going to take too long and she was terrified.”
The biggest need FISH fills is for food. In 2020, the food pantry distributed 246,545 pounds of food. FISH volunteers deliver hot meals to homebound individuals (Meals by FISH) and children don’t go hungry through the Weekend Backpack program.
Espinoza said the backpacks are “weekend meals to help supplement those who use the food pantry and need additional food and snacks.”
Espinoza said FISH has provided meals from the very beginning. “Within the first six months, very proudly may I add, the organization prepared 10 meals and delivered 10 meals. Since then, that has changed. In 2020, we delivered 6,412 meals to island seniors,” she said.
The array of FISH programs include education for adults, children and the community from monthly workshops to scholarships. The popular Friendly Faces Luncheon is hosted each month for socialization and there is non-emergency transportation for on-island errands or off-island medical appointments.
FISH volunteers are essential to the operation of the organization. In addition to delivering meals and driving the FISH van for non-emergency transportation, they make daily reassurance calls and, prior to the pandemic, made visitations to those who were isolated.
There are many ways neighbors can continue helping neighbors through FISH. There is planned giving through estate planning or a monetary donation today.
You can also make a donation to the food pantry. It’s always in need of non-perishable items from canned chicken, tuna, fruits or vegetables to beans, pasta, cereals and soups. The pantry, located inside the FISH Walk-In Center at 2430 Periwinkle Way, is open from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. five days a week
FISH is celebrating its 40th anniversary during its annual go! FISH event in March. It will be an evening of great music, a live auction of unique items and a wonderful dinner. To learn more about it or the organization, visit the FISH website or call the Walk-Center at 239-472-4775 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SC Publisher Shannen Hayes contributed to this article.