FISH OF SANCAP, a ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ social service organization for the last 40 years, plays an important role throughout southwest Florida because of the assistance offered, not just to residents of the islands, but also to the workforce and visitors. Ranging from food programs to financial assistance, educational workshops, youth and senior programs and more, FISH offers something for everyone.
FISH’s Helping Hands program provides assistance to island residents and employees who need a hand up due to one or several crisis situations such as job loss, medical emergencies, unexpected family circumstances and more. FISH team member Nitza Lopez, Social Services Director, coordinates the Helping Hands & Financial Assistance program for those in need of temporary financial assistance. She works 1:1 with individuals in need to create and implement a plan to move quickly through crisis and into recovery. Working alongside FISH’s experienced and knowledgeable professional staff, volunteers and community partners and advocates, their ultimate goal is to help neighbors develop a pathway for long-term self-sustainability.
Meghan Schneider, whose name has been changed for privacy, began using the food pantry to help sustain herself and her 18-year-old son who will be graduating high school this year. She is a young grandmother who was recently awarded temporary custody of her three grandchildren, due to their mother’s critical illness. All grandchildren, aged under 5 years old, attend day care part time and are cared for by her older son during afternoon hours so Meghan can continue to work full time on Sanibel. It is extremely likely that her son will forfeit his college dreams and go straight into the workforce since there is no financial support for higher education.
“Every single month it’s just a struggle to stay afloat with feeding the kids and paying all the bills,” says Meghan. She began using the FISH Food Pantry when she learned that she could not receive SNAP (food stamps) due to the program rules and regulations. “I had just found out about FISH, and thought I would give it a try,” continues Schneider. “The food assistance has been a life saver!” Due to the increasing cost of gas, Meghan cannot afford the round-trip expense six days a week to get to and from work, so she relies on others through a ride share scenario for transportation. Unfortunately, relying on others for transportation limits opportunities to visit the food pantry, adding additional stress to her household.
FISH Social Services Director Nitza Lopez met with Meghan and learned of additional family needs that FISH could assist with. “When working with people, situations can be unique and specific and we view everyone individually, working together to create a plan that best fits their specific situation,” says Lopez. Often a visit to FISH is a symptom of a larger underlying problem, so by tailoring assessments, the organization can help people get back on their feet more quickly. Through discussion and an intake process, it was discovered that Meghan was behind in rent and utility payments and just barely getting by, living paycheck to paycheck with three additional mouths to feed. “Sometimes it gets so stressful it’s like I forget to breathe, and it feels like I’m in quicksand,” notes Meghan. “It just keeps getting harder and harder, and I really hope FISH can help me.”
Meghan was qualified to receive emergency financial assistance for rent and utilities and received a gas card from the FISH organization. She was also placed on the holiday assistance program and the children’s food backpack program. Through grants and private donations, the organization provides assistance to neighbors in need. FISH determines eligibility for need-based financial assistance through a review of a family’s income and expense documentation. Amounts vary depending upon the family’s financial status.
FISH continues to work with Meghan and her family to provide additional resources to plan next steps and long-term solutions for the family. The priority is to help remove possible obstacles that would result in her grandchildren entering the foster care system. Together, the organization and family are working to determine if FISH can provide resources so that her oldest son can continue his education. Due to the overwhelming circumstances of this situation, FISH has temporarily lifted pantry restrictions for the family so that they can prepare complete, healthy meals and snacks daily.
For those interested in learning more about FISH, please call for a tour to meet their staff and see, first hand, how the agency works to better the community. FISH is the only Human Services Organization on Sanibel and Captiva. To learn more about the programs and services of FISH, please contact Maria Espinoza, Executive Director, at (239) 472-4775 or visit their website at www.fishofsancap.org