By Laura Gates. The season of giving offers many opportunities to help bring holiday cheer to others, providing meals or gifts for struggling Southwest Florida families.
For people who live with food insecurity, the holidays can be particularly difficult, said Marjorie Johnson, executive director of the Bonita Springs Assistance Office. Parents want to give gifts to their children, but that may mean neglecting to pay a utility bill or skimping on food. They’re also without assistance from the free and reduced lunch program of the public schools.
“It stretches people’s budgets,” Johnson said. “We are always in need of extra hands in our pantry during the holiday season.”
All local food pantries experience high demand this time of year, said Nancy Martin, director of Interfaith Charities of South Lee. She’s thankful for groups and organizations, like Summit Church, which do annual holiday food drives.
“Food gets tough here,” Martin said. “We can always use more volunteers working in the food pantry and picking up donations.”
One of the largest Thanksgiving dinner distributions in the area occurs at Lamb of God Church off Estero Parkway in South Lee County. Inspired by Jesus, the event is named Feeding the 5,000 — although actual numbers vary from year to year.
“We topped out at 9,600 at the height of the recession,” said longtime organizer Cheryl Frogge. “I think the economy is improving. It would be great if we only needed to do 3,000.”
Lamb of God partners with United Way to identify local families in need. The operation takes more than 400 volunteers. It begins with turkey roasting the Sunday before Thanksgiving and continues with food preparation and packing through Wednesday. Drivers are needed to deliver meals on Thanksgiving Day.
“We need help with drivers and also with desserts,” Frogge said. “Every year, they always run out of desserts.”