Gasparilla Island is well known for its generosity ranging from 25 island nonprofits to established benefits for schooling, animals, Haiti and the hungry.
Voluminous volunteer hours have established islanders don't just throw money at a problem; they are willing to put their collective shoulder into a solution.
A good example is the Harry Chapin Food Bank, which benefits from the Taste of Boca Grande benefit the first Monday every February. The Taste collects roughly $35,000 annually from a fun night on the manicured grounds of the Boca Bay Pass Club.
Nick Kaiser of Boca Grande speaks with a mobile food unit collecting supplies for a small rural outlet in Alva.
The outdoor soiree is a milieu miles away from the 50,000-square-foot distribution plant in Fort Myers and a world apart from the needy people served last year by 15 million pounds of food and other grocery items collected by the Harry Chapin Food Bank valued at more than $24.9 million.
General Manager Terry Bisset of the Boca Bay Pass Club is credited for connecting the HC event with the island and taking it to another level. He visited the food bank Friday along with Taste and Boca Grande Food Drive organizers Nick Kaiser and Thor and Blanche Johnson.
"It's amazing what they are able to do," Kaiser said.
What: Taste of Boca Grande benefit for Harry Chapin Food Bank
When: 6-9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4
Where: Boca Bay Pass Club
Cost: Tickets, $85, on sale at the Boca Bay Pass Club, Boca Grande Club, BRC Group and from Nick Kaiser, 964-0141, and Thor Johnson, 964-0697.
Al Brislain, president and CEO of the Harry Chapin Food Bank, and Joyce Jacobs, associate director and disaster coordinator, greeted the Boca Grande contingent.
"The need just keeps growing," Brislain said as he took the small group on a tour of the beehive that is the food bank distribution center with forklifts zipping about moving pallets of food into position for representatives of the 160 nonprofits being served to pick up. "I can't say we're succeeding in wiping out the hunger problem."
During the Great Recession the number of Lee County households in need of food has grown from 89,000 to 150,000. The poverty threshold is $12,000 for a single person and $28,000 for a family of four.
Goods are sorted into six categories: cans, vegetables, fruits and jellies, protein, beverages and meals. Volunteers sorted 1.5 million donated items last year.
Brislain is proud of the food bank's ability to turn a $1 donation into $6 of food. He said that makes Boca Grande's true contribution worth $210,000.
The food industry - Publix, Wal-Mart, Sweet Bay, Winn-Dixie and Target - donates 70 percent of the food bank's inventory with another 10 percent apiece coming from purchases, the U.S. commodity program and food drives such as the two conducted on Boca Grande every year.
Right now the warehouse is holding pallets of food FEMA is storing for Hurricane Sandy relief. If FEMA doesn't call for the food soon, it will revert to the food bank's use, Brislain said.
"Ninety-five billion worth of food goes to waste in the United States every year," Brislain said. "We try to redistribute it before that happens."
The Harry Chapin Food Bank is one of the 10 largest such relief operations in the Feeding America umbrella, which distributes 37 million pounds of food per year.
The Harry Chapin Food Bank solicits, collects and stores food for a network of 160 nonprofit agencies in Lee, Collier, Hendry, Charlotte and Glades counties that aid more than 30,000 people monthly. More than 1 million pounds of food are distributed every month.
For additional information about or to contribute financially to the Harry Chapin Food Bank, contact (239) 334-7007 or go to harrychapinfoodbank.org.