Providing Meals With a Smile for over 40 years

Elaine Parente, Meals Manager states “Meals are such a simple, basic need, yet many go without”.  The Meals-by-FISH program assists older adults and residents with disabilities who no longer cook to ensure they receive nutritious meals throughout the week. Additionally, those who are experiencing a shorter-term scenario like recovering from a procedure take part in the program as they recuperate.

For over 40 years, FISH OF SANCAP has provided Meals-by-F.I.S.H. which delivers daily hot, nutritious meals to island neighbors. The program, which doubled in size during the COVID pandemic, remains as critical today as was 40 years ago and takes a dedicated team of volunteers and a volunteer Meals Manager to keep it running smoothly year-round. “The FISH meals program was one of our first services and truly a community effort,” states Maggi Feiner, President, FISH.  “When it began, the islands’ churches provided the meals on a rotating basis to residents of Sanibel and Captiva.

As the need for this service grew FISH partnered with Bailey’s General Store who began preparing the meals. “Back then – over 20 years ago — we called each participant to take their order for the following day,” recalls Feiner. Chefs Karl, JT and Ethan of Bailey’s work diligently preparing the Meals-by-F.I.S.H. menu, while their staff sorts, bags and labels each meal on a daily basis.  Each meal consists of a protein, starch and vegetable.

Today, this large, multi-faceted service is managed and coordinated by FISH volunteer Elaine Parente, who has been a dedicated FISH volunteer since 2013. Originally from Pittsburgh, Elaine had been visiting Sanibel with her family since the 80s, but once her husband visited, it was clear the island was where they wanted to start their next chapter. Initially considering Sanibel as part-residents, Elaine notes that it didn’t take long before they decided to make the full-time transition.

 “I decided I wanted to volunteer someplace on the island but didn’t know where,” recalls Elaine. “A friend told me about FISH’s ice cream social at the former Zebra Frozen Yogurt – which is now Joey’s – and I met Lyn Kern and Nicole McHale, who told me all the exciting ways I could help my community.”

Elaine join FISH initially working in the Food Pantry every Monday morning and at the Walk-In Center reception desk some afternoons. As she learned more about FISH and other volunteer opportunities, Elaine added meal delivery to her volunteer responsibilities and eventually became the Meals Manager.  “It takes a great deal of coordination between those needing meals and the FISH volunteers that deliver them, to keep this program running smoothly.” Erika Broyles, Seniors Services Director. “The Meals Programs also brings a smiling volunteer who may chat a few minutes with our neighbor.”  Last year, FISH distributed 5,090 meals to Sanibel and Captiva households.

When asked why she stays involved with the FISH organization, Elaine states she particularly enjoys helping those who live here but don’t have family close by. “Since I’m not close enough to always be of help to my mom, who still lives in PA, I can be a help to someone else’s parents.”  Elaine notes her volunteer position with the organization gives her a way to express her appreciation for the community.  “Even though I help FISH, I feel it has helped me too. The people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, what I’ve learned as well as the help I’ve been able provide, has made such a difference. All of the service organizations on Sanibel are worthwhile and provide much needed help and education.  I guess what makes FISH unique is everything they do, they do to help people directly. Their services make an impact immediately.”

“The first thing I would tell anyone considering volunteering with FISH is that it can be so rewarding,” says Elaine.  “Everyone is assured to find a service area they enjoy because FISH offers so much to the community.  Also, if someone is new to the community, volunteering provides an opportunity to meet people and make new friends, people you might not meet otherwise.” Elaine goes on to say that FISH provides so many valuable services from loaning medical equipment, providing nourishment through several food programs, assisting with financial needs, possibly being someone’s sole daily contact, helping people understand and prepare for emergency situations and so much more. 

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of FISH in providing services throughout the community.  Our volunteers meet the neighbor they are helping, get to know them and form a heart-warming kinship.  Elaine, as do all of our volunteers, not only gives time, but also their hearts.  We are truly lucky to have dedicated and caring volunteers,” states Maggi Feiner.