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Harry Chapin Food Bank helps its partner agencies obtain more food

July 10, 2018
Pine Island Eagle

As of July 1, the Harry Chapin Food Bank has eliminated its shared maintenance fees for its partner agencies, which includes the Cape Coral Caring Center.

"We have been able to, over the years, get a lot from Harry Chapin. Our partnership has been wonderful," Cape Coral Caring Center Director Julie Ferguson said. "To be able to get food with no shared maintenance is better than a wonderful thing. We are very excited about that."

Harry Chapin Food Bank President and CEO Richard LeBer said when the Food Bank began 35 years ago, a co-op of local organizations helping others decided to chip money into a pot to share food and gas expenses.

The fees, which added up to 1.5 to 2 cents per pound of food distributed, were collected from the agencies to offset costs of gathering and distributing food.

This past year, the Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed 24 million pounds of food to 170 partner agencies. Since the beginning, they have been chipping money into the pot.

"We decided this year to eliminate what remained of it," he said.

Last year, following Hurricane Irma, the Harry Chapin Food Bank suspended those fees for a short time to help the partner agencies recover.

With the elimination of the maintenance fees now permanent, the Harry Chapin Food Bank will lose about $400,000 out of its $8 million annual budget.

"It's a significant amount of money. Many years ago it was almost all the money we raised," LeBer said.

With the elimination, he hopes it will make it easier on all of their partner agencies, especially the smaller organizations.

"We have big organizations (such as) St. Vincent de Paul and many small organizations that are small pantries in a neighborhood church," he said. The small organizations do not have a large staff, or fundraisers, but rather the pastor allowing the panty to get what is needed from the collection plate during mass. "I don't want that to limit how many they can help."

The Cape Coral Caring Center already has a commitment established of never turning away income qualified individuals receiving food. With the elimination of the fee, Ferguson said it will help them resolve and keep their pantry fuller with food.

"We don't have to struggle daily to fill our bags properly," she said.

During the summer months the center sees between 15 to 30 families.

"Our front office is full," Ferguson said minutes after the center opened Tuesday.

This time of year, June, July and August, the center also puts together healthy, no hungry kids bags. The pantry is always looking for peanut butter and jelly, dry milk, cereal and other kid friendly healthy food items to fill the bags. Donations can be dropped off during business hours at the center, or can be picked up from neighborhood food drives.

The bags are given to each child in a family and are designed to feed them for a week.

She said they appreciate all of the hard work the Harry Chapin Food Bank does for the community.

"We are glad to be partners with them over all those many years. We are excited that they have the ability now to be able to not have the shared maintenance fees. All of our goals are to feed hungry families and this will help us as a community to make sure no child and family has hunger," Ferguson said.

The Cape Coral Caring Center has been apart of the community since 1990.

"I walked in the door and never walked out," Ferguson said of being there for 18 years. "I was humbled and overwhelmed by the good that this center does and I said I am staying. I will do what I can to make a difference and make sure no child has hunger."

The Harry Chapin Food Bank has a long-term goal of growing twice as big as it is now.

"We think that is how much food it is going to take to adequately feed everyone hungry in Southwest Florida," LeBer said, adding that eliminating the maintenance fee will hopefully "make it easier for all of our member organizations to step up and try to feed as many people as they can."

Partner agencies of the Harry Chapin Food Bank have to go through an application process establishing that they are providing food to feed the hungry. They have to be a registered nonprofit, have a proper facility to store food, which is checked to ensure the food is properly and safely handled.

In terms of how much food they receive is determined on how many people they serve.

"We try to figure out how many families an organization is serving and set limits based on that," LeBer said. "We share as fairly as we can."

The Harry Chapin Food Bank provides $8 in food value for every dollar donated. During the fiscal year of 2016-2017, the food bank distributed 22.3 million pounds of food, and other food items, including 6.6 million pounds of fresh produce. The food, which was valued at $37.3 million is the equivalent of 18.6 million meals.

For additional information, or to make a donation, please call 239-334-7007 or visit



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