provided to The Santiva Chronicle
Lyn and Bob Kern, longtime island residents, joined the FISH of SANCAP organization nearly 15 years ago as volunteers and were trained by FISH President Maggi Feiner at her home. Lyn could always be seen driving her white VW Cabriolet with the top down, of course, delivering meals, equipment or transporting someone to a doctor’s appointment.
Lyn wanted to help more, so she began volunteering at the Walk-In Center, where she assisted with organizing volunteer schedules and recruiting volunteers. She then became the first FISH employee.
“When I mentioned I was going to look for a part-time job, Maggi offered me a position in the office, which was an instant ‘yes,'” Lyn recalled. She began assisting with the ‘normals’ one resident and one need at a time. “The phone and door were open to all, and the needs were there from the start,” said Lyn. “I learned everything from Maggi.”
Forty years ago, FISH started in residents’ kitchens and vehicles. The Board of Directors opened the first walk-in center in 2007 with an understanding of the need to have a more accessible location. The 680-square-feet office was painted by board members and volunteers. And furnishings were donated by the community.
The Food Pantry, now the organization’s largest program, began after high season ended in 2008. Lyn said it was “an idea brought to us by a snowbird leaving the island for the summer who wanted to drop off food at our office.” The recession was hitting seniors and families, so other volunteers and friends were asked to drop off what they could before leaving for the summer. It was an idea that quickly grew.
“There was a small room with one shelf, a desk, a sink, and that was about it,” said Lyn. “FISH rapidly added three more shelves and CHR (Community Housing & Resources) donated a used refrigerator for much-need perishables.”
Shirley Bohnert, a former board member and volunteer, said Lyn filled a big need even though she worked part time. “She saw first-hand how families were struggling,” said Bohnert. “She scheduled weekly volunteer shoppers, volunteers to stock shelves and track inventory.”
“She engaged businesses to put out food bins for donations and volunteers to pick up donations and stock the shelves,” Bohnert continued. “Lyn sought out more volunteers to help facilitate all the programs, including Meals-By-FISH, a hot meal delivery service, as well as volunteers to answer phones, schedule rides, equipment delivery and pick up and many other services.”
Bohnert said Lyn was most helpful in gaining information needed to provide for all family members when the board approved Easter holiday meals. “It was a small operation back then, but Lyn organized the program and even helped with delivery,” continued Bohnert. “Seeing the appreciation of the families, especially the smiles and laughter of the children, we knew this was a program that would rapidly grow in years to come.”
Lyn has many favorite moments with FISH. She embraces the FISH annual volunteer meeting, when the room is filled with an exquisite array of generous, kind and beautiful folks who are celebrated for being there for others. “FISH is special to our islands because of our mission to help others and have an impact to make lives better,” she said. “We all need to be needed and that’s what our clients bring to us.”
Forty years later, FISH employs eight professional staff members with Feiner, who accepts no salary, at the helm. Its volunteer force, which is now comprised of more than 150 individuals, are critical to the success of the organization and are truly valued members of the team.
“Although Lyn has retired as an employee, she is still driving around with the top of her white Cabriolet down delivering Smile Boxes, helping with medical equipment and much more as a dedicated volunteer,” said Feiner. “Lyn was invaluable in getting the Walk-In Center organized, enlisting volunteers and streamlining our programs and services. Her passion and commitment helped many of our neighbors.”
Feiner said Lyn was there to listen, help, laugh and sometimes cry with everyone. “Lyn became a friend to many, including me. I am honored to have worked beside her for so many years,” she said.
Lyn and her husband Bob continue to volunteer at FISH and offer assistance in any way they can. And FISH continues to play an important role throughout Southwest Florida by assisting the islands’ residents, workforce and visitors. For more information on FISH programs and services, contact Executive Director Maria Espinoza at 239-472-4775 or visit fishofsancap.org.