This year Pine Island F.I.S.H. (Fellow Islanders Sending Help) is celebrating 30 years of service to Pine Island residents. The organization was "officially" established in January 1987 to provide rides to islanders who did not have any other means of transportation.
"Since that time, our services have expanded greatly beyond providing non-emergency transportation to include mobility equipment and even emergency financial assistance," director Dianne Higgens said.
In the early 1980s, a group of islanders got together to provide transportation for those no longer able to drive and to provide respite for caretakers who needed to run errands. Then in 1986 discussions were started about creating F.I.S.H. organizations on Pine Island and Fort Myers Beach.
"Lois Allen established F.I.S.H. on Pine Island and the first meeting was held Oct. 16, 1986," Higgens said.
"F.I.S.H. has expanded our services since we started," Higgens said. "We've always provided non-emergency transportation to individuals who needed transportation to medical facilities, grocery stores, pharmacies and banks. But since then we've added mobility equipment to lend (wheelchairs and walkers); emergency financial assistance to qualified clients for rent, utilities, medical, etc.; as well as respite for non-paid, primary caregivers for approximately 4 hours once a week."
F.I.S.H. started the Pine Island "Basket Brigade" in 1991. The Basket Brigade program provides gifts to children and seniors and food gift cards to families. The "School Clothes for Kids" program was established in 2000 to provide qualified students new clothes and shoes in the first two days of school. F.I.S.H. also partners with the Beacon of HOPE and Pine Island United Methodist Church for after school and summer camp food programs.
"We have approximately 75 active volunteer members," Higgens said. "We don't have any paid employees nor do we have a physical presence all members work out of their homes. There is never a fee for any of our services and all transportation costs are borne by the drivers."
2016 F.I.S.H. accomplishments: answered and assisted a total of 1,126 calls; provided more than $38,300 in emergency financial assistance to 125 clients including rent, utilities, prescriptions and necessary bills; and loaned people in need over 300 pieces of mobility equipment.
FISH is a nonprofit (501c3), nonprofessional association of volunteers, organized for the purpose of making available and rendering the fullest possible range of neighborly, caring, unpaid and nonprofessional assistance to those persons who request help.
Anyone interested in volunteering can download an application from the website: www.pineislandfish.org, or attend one of the monthly member meetings on the first Thursday of the month at 3 p.m. in the Pine Island United Methodist Church. Donations can be made by forwarding a check to Pine Island FISH, Inc., P.O. Box 357, Matlacha, FL 33993, or by calling 239-283-4442.