Reducing food insecurity one pound at a time
COURTESY PHOTO The Naples Children & Education Foundation and Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida recently distributed the 1 millionth pound of food for underprivileged and at-risk Collier County children and their families at Avalon Elementary School in East Naples.
The food distribution drew 350 families who loaded cardboard boxes with carrots, apples, cabbages, onions, potatoes and other produce along with canned goods, cereal and meat. Twenty-five volunteers assisted with registering the families and helping them select groceries from the mobile food pantry branded with the Lunch Boxes of Love logo.
“For most of these kids, this will be the only food they get at home,” Mary Pierce, an Avalon Elementary teacher, observed.
Statistics show that approximately 30 percent of Collier County households with children experience food insecurity — a general anxiety about where their next meals will come from. In addition, 49 percent of the people receiving food assistance from local food banks are children, and more than 61 percent of the children enrolled in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in Collier County are defined as economically needy and receive free lunch. At Avalon Elementary, 93 percent of children are in the high-need category.
Volunteers help families fill cartons with food. “NCEF trustees are passionate about finding a solution to childhood hunger in Collier County,” said John Scot Mueller, NCEF trustee and vice chair of the foundation’s grant committee. “The need is great, and thanks to our partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank, we are able to maximize the quality and quantity of food going to these families in need.”
NCEF’s Lunch Boxes of Love initiative, he added, draws more hard dollars into the community than any other foundation endeavor. The initiative began one year ago, after NCEF’s 2011 Naples Winter Wine Festival raised $630,000 through a fund-a-need auction lot and began partnering with Harry Chapin Food Bank. Over the past year, 68 food deliveries have been made to schools and child-focused agencies in areas with the most underserved and at-risk children in the county.
Jennifer Alvarez, 2, beside her familiy’s box of groceries. NCEF’s mission is to create and expand charitable programs serving underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County. The foundation supports more than 20 grantees and provides grants for long-term strategic initiatives focused on children’s early learning, medical/oral health, out-ofschool programs, behavioral health and childhood hunger.
NCEF’s 69 trustees govern the foundation and host the Naples Winter Wine Festival, the most successful charity wine auction in the world. The 2013 festival will be held Jan. 25-27. For more information, visit www.napleswinefestival.com.
Maria Ramirez (in hat), and her daughter-in-law, Carla Ramirez, with Carla’s children Sarah and Jose taking a box filled with food home.
COURTESY PHOTOS The Harry Chapin Food Bank solicits, collects and stores food for distribution to families in need through a network of nonprofit agencies in Collier, Lee, Hendry, Charlotte and Glades counties. Those agencies in turn provide food to more than 30,000 people monthly.
In the past calendar year, Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed more than 13.7 million pounds of food and other grocery items valued at more than $22.5 million. This is roughly the equivalent of 11 million meals to people in need. ¦