According to a Feeding America study last year, over 26,400 children in Lee County are considered food insecure, meaning they do not have access to enough affordable and nutritious food. Additionally, increasing food costs make it difficult for families to provide important nutrition choices that are critical to childhood success.
Fighting childhood hunger is a key focus in FISH of SANCAPs array of food programs. Particularly, the FISH Backpack Program provides nutritious, kid-friendly supplemental food and snacks for children year-round, including extra during school breaks. Through the Backpack Program, students receive nutritious, easy to prepare, and great tasting foods, on a weekly basis. All backpacks contain protein, fruits and vegetables, snacks, breakfast cereal, soup and/or a pasta meal, milk, juice, and occasionally enhanced with a sweet treat, and FISH also includes organic and vegetarian choices.
Last year, FISH began a supplemental “fresh meal” add-on to the program that provides a well-balanced meal kit that families can easily prepare and enjoy together. This program is meant to encourage families to spend time together relieve some stress knowing that at least one meal a week is planned during their busy lives. Each weekly Fresh Meal includes a kid-friendly recipe and all necessary ingredients. Throughout the year, FISH staff often plans monthly meal themes which have included Asian Cuisine, a Healthy Twist on American Classics, Back-to-School and plant-based meals which adds an element of fun and variety for kids and parents alike. Not only are participating children spending quality time with family members, but they are also learning important life skills – problem solving, planning, organization, appreciation, and of course, cooking – that help them develop and grow.
Studies have shown that good nutrition, particularly in the early years of life, is important for establishing a good foundation for a child’s future physical and mental health and academic achievement.
“Over the last few years, we have seen a large increase in requests to participate in the Backpack Program due to the additional strain the COVID crisis put on food insecure families,” says Maria Espinoza, Executive Director. In 2021, FISH distributed 4,294 food backpacks to children, an increase of 118% over 2020.
The backpack program is available year-round to any child, grades Pre-K through 12th, whose family has an island connection, either living or parents working on the islands. Due to the dramatic increase in participating families and the increased need for food, FISH has doubled the amount of food provided weekly.
“The Kiwanis Club of Sanibel & Captiva, AngelFISH Society, and Community Foundation have been incredible in providing FISH with funding for the backpack program. Thanks to them, we can continue to provide additional food in the backpacks as well as the ingredients and recipe cards for a fresh, healthy, and kid-friendly meal,” continues Maria.
Parents pick up the food bags at the FISH Walk-In Center located at 2430-B Periwinkle Way Monday-Friday between 10:00am and 3:45pm. For those interested in participating in the program, please contact FISH at 239-472-4775.