The FISH Food Pantry is a vital service for many households, and the organization receives requests for assistance daily from island residents and workers struggling to afford the skyrocketing cost of groceries. Once qualified by FISH, households are able to shop for nutritious supplemental grocery items to sustain food needs. Each year, the organization distributes hundreds of thousands of pounds of food through the pantry program.
FISH receives donated products for their Food Pantry program in partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Midwest Food Bank, Sanibel Farmer’s Market, Bailey’s and Jerry’s Foods, while many others hold food drives or donate products to the program. “We are so thankful for the partnerships and generous donors that help keep our Pantry stocked,” says Maria Espinoza, Executive Director. “Due to high demand, however, we still experience difficulty keeping our shelves full, particularly during the summer months when work hours are cut for our users, and donations are decreased as snowbirds head north.” Last year, the Pantry program distributed 255,980 pounds of food equating to 213,316 meals.
FISH purchases products weekly and places limits on how much one family can take to insure staples are available to all Food Pantry patrons. With the increasing cost of food, however, their budget is stretched. According to Bloomberg economists Andrew Husby and Anna Wong in an Insider article, “the red-hot inflation expected to last throughout the year will leave the average US household spending $5,200 more compared to the year prior. That boils down to an extra $433 per month on the same goods and services as last year.” [i]
“We see firsthand how inflation is affecting our Food Pantry program as now, more than ever before, our neighbors are making difficult choices between putting food on the table or filling their gas tank,” continues Espinoza. Many Pantry users report they are fearful for the upcoming ‘slow’ months when work hours are cut and kids are out of school requiring additional at home meals. The FISH organization also offers a children’s Backpack Program that includes child-friendly products and a fresh meal element. The program, available to any family that lives or works on Sanibel or Captiva, has nearly doubled in the last year. The FISH organization distributed 4,294 backpacks in 2021.
While the FISH Food Pantry has been stretched thin for space with the increased need for services and expansions of programs such as the food backpacks for children, FISH has continued to keep pace during the pandemic. Currently, the Pantry is open Monday through Friday from 10a–3:45p for clients to shop for their groceries.
“This is a particularly difficult time for our neighbors for so many reasons — the pandemic, inflation, cost of gas and supply shortages — and we’re not out of the woods yet,” continues Espinoza. “We also see many of our seniors having to make the difficult choice between buying their medications and putting food on the table. FISH has many food, financial and educational programs to assist our neighbors in their greatest time of need. We’re here to help, and FISH has something for everyone.”
FISH is grateful for donations to their food programs—both monetary or products to distribute. Those leaving for the season are encouraged to donate unopened products including perishable and non-perishable food, personal hygiene products, and household cleaning items. For a list of Pantry needs, please visit the pantry page on the FISH website, https://www.fishofsancap.org/food-pantry/.