FISH OF SANCAP Assists in Time of Loss

FISH OF SANCAP provides assistance to island residents and employees who need a hand up through their Helping Hands program.  Many who seek assistance have experienced 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 by working 1:1 with individuals in need to create and implement a plan to move quickly through crisis and into recovery.

For the purposes of privacy, the names of the individuals involved have been changed.  Mary Dugan visited FISH for the first time after the unexpected death of her husband, Martin, who passed away due to complications from the COVID-19 disease. “His death occurred one month after our 20th wedding anniversary. I still can’t believe it.  This whole thing feels like a nightmare,” notes Mary during her intake interview.

Mary’s husband contracted COVID and after a few days struggled with shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, chest pain and severe vomiting.  Mary recalls when Martin’s symptoms worsened, she took him to the hospital where he was admitted immediately.  Seven days later, he was gone.

“We had so many plans for this year.  We were going to open a savings account for the first time in 20 years, and Martin had just finished a side job and was very excited to fix his truck that broke down a while ago. I felt like things were coming together, and then everything changed in an instant,” says Mary.

Prior to Martin’s illness, the couple lived modestly, always trying to stay ahead of their bills, but the pandemic slowed down opportunities to earn extra income.  When available, Martin would take side jobs while Mary tried to secure additional shifts so they could finally get ahead. “We had so much to look forward to, and it seemed like we were beginning to recover financially from the huge hit we took at the beginning of COVID,” continues Mary. “Now everything has changed forever.”

Mary stayed by Martin’s side as much as possible during his last days, using their small savings to pay bills, buy groceries for herself, and keep her car filled with gas. “Of course I didn’t work while he was sick, and couldn’t work after he passed, so I’ve lost a lot of income.  I have a small amount that I can use toward his medical expenses, but then I won’t have enough to keep up with the household bills.  I don’t know what to do, I never thought I would be alone so early in my life.”

Nitza Lopez, FISH, met with Mary several times to learn of any additional needs that FISH could assist with. She referred Mary to the FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program and Lee County Cremations Services and FISH assisted with two months of mortgage payments.  Mary has returned to work and has started using the FISH Food Pantry. “Every day I mourn the loss of my husband,” says Mary. “I’m thankful I found FISH and the kind people that work there and help me.  I know Martin would have been happy to volunteer at such a fine organization like FISH; he just loved helping others.” FISH continues to talk with Mary and provide additional resources to help with her grieving process.

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.  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. 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