FISH OF SANCAP 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. Forty years ago FISH of SANCAP started in island residents’ kitchens and out of their cars. Understanding the need to have a location to be more accessible to the community, the Board of Directors opened the first Walk-In Center in 2007. The 680 sq. ft. office was painted by Board Members and volunteers. Furnishings were donated by the community. FISH volunteers who are the “life blood” of the organization worked to meet, greet and assist our community with a smile.
Lyn and Bob Kern, long time island residents, joined the FISH organization nearly 15 years ago as volunteers and were trained by Maggi Feiner, FISH President, at her home. You would always see Lyn driving the islands in her white VW Cabriolet, with the top down, of course, delivering meals, equipment or driving someone to a doctor’s appointment.
Lyn wanted to help more so she began volunteering at the Walk-In Center assisting with organizing volunteer schedules and recruiting volunteers. “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,” recalls Lyn. As FISH’s first employee, she assisted with all the “normals” including helping out wherever, however, and whenever, one resident at a time and one need at a time. “The phone and door were open to all, and the needs were there from the start. I learned everything from Maggi,” continues Lyn.
The Food Pantry, now the organization’s largest program, began just after high season ended in 2008. “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,” says Lyn. With the recession hitting our seniors and families FISH asked other volunteers and friends to drop off what they could before leaving for the summer and the idea quickly grew. “There was a small room with one shelf, a desk, a sink and that’s about it. FISH rapidly added 3 more shelves and CHR donated a used refrigerator for much-needed perishables,” adds Lyn.
Former Board Member and Volunteer, Shirley Bohnert, recalls “Lyn, although working part-time, filled a big need. She saw first-hand how families were struggling. Lyn scheduled weekly volunteer shoppers, volunteers to stock shelves and track inventory. Working with volunteers she engaged businesses to put out food bins for donations and volunteers to pick up and stock the shelves. Lyn sought out more volunteers to help facilitate all programs including Meals-by-FISH, a hot meal delivery service, volunteers to answer phones, schedule rides, equipment delivery/pick up and many other services. With Easter holidays quickly approaching the Board of Directors approved providing the very first holiday meal for clients. Lyn was most helpful in gaining the information we needed to provide for all the family members. Easter meals were a complete meal purchased at Winn Dixie. Lyn provided the names and ages of the children and we assembled Easter baskets, trying to match them with age and gender. It was a small operation back then, but Lyn organized the program and even helped with delivery. 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 where the room was 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. We all need to be needed and that’s what our clients bring to us.”
“Although Lyn has retired as an employee at FISH she is still driving around with her top down delivering Smile Boxes, helping with medical equipment, and much more as a dedicated volunteer. Lyn was invaluable in getting the Walk-In Center organized, enlisting volunteers and streamlining our programs and services. Lyn’s passion and commitment helped many of our neighbors. She 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 Lyn for so many years.” says Maggi Feiner, President & CEO.
Now, 40 years later, the FISH organization employs eight professional staff members with Maggi Feiner (who accepts no salary) at the helm. Their volunteer force, now over 150 individuals, are critical to the success of the organization and truly valued members of the FISH team. Lyn and Bob Kern remain FISH volunteers to this day and continue to offer assistance in any way they can from delivering Smile Boxes, helping with medical equipment, and just as important, ensuring that islanders are aware of FISH’s services throughout the community.
FISH looks forward to the next 40 years of serving their island neighbors thanks to the support of their community. For additional information on the FISH organization and their programs and services, please contact Maria Espinoza, Executive Director at 239-472-4775 or visit their website at www.fishofsancap.org.