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Pine Island F.I.S.H quietly swimming against the tide

March 11, 2020
By PAULETTE LeBLANC ( , Pine Island Eagle

Fellow Islanders Sending Help is no misnomer, on an island that seems motivated by a desire to lift all boats with the rising tide. Although F.I.S.H. is a group that's been woven into the very fabric of this community, according to current Board President Dianne Higgins, there are many people who still haven't heard of this, 60-plus strong, volunteer-driven organization.

In addition to providing rides, at no charge, to island residents who cannot get around, F.I.S.H. also lends mobility equipment, such as, wheelchairs, walkers, shower seats and potty-chairs to people who need them.

Higgins said they cannot provide anything motorized, for lack of a place to keep these things.

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The organization also provides financial assistance to islanders who may find themselves in an emergency situation. Higgins, who's been involved with F.I.S.H. for almost two decades, confesses her desire to be a part of the organization was born out of the things they do for the people who need them, adding that the group takes great pride in remaining strictly confidential.

Although Higgins found it difficult, once upon a time, to even talk about her role in a group like F.I.S.H., for fear of a seeming lack of humiliation, she openly discusses it now, based on the experience she's had, witnessing the importance of a group quietly coming to the aid of those in need.

"We have a variety of services, such as respite for unpaid caregivers," said Higgins. "Where we go and sit with folks for a while so the caregiver can get out and do whatever they need to do."

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Although Higgins said they don't get a lot of requests for it, F.I.S.H. also offers an "In Touch-Service," which are phone calls to people who may be lonely or isolated, with no one to talk to. Over the past 10 to 12 years, the "Basket Brigade" has become a popular children's program born to F.I.S.H. This is a semi-annual event, which takes place once in the summer time for needed school clothes in addition to a gift card for new school shoes.

The other is a formal Basket Brigade, done in time for Christmas, where the organization provides three new toys for each participating child. Higgins said there are usually former participants as well as those who reach out.

"We do partner with people on the island for a lot of school clothes for the kids, and the Hookers always help us out," said Higgins, speaking, of course, of the Matlacha Hookers, another beloved island-based help resource group.

This year's Board Vice-President Guy Vaughan, who has been involved with F.I.S.H. for four years, said he is utilized, like all the volunteers, as there is a need.

"We help young people as well as those who are quite seasoned," said Vaughan. "They've lived through a lot of life, and this island is filled with so much talent. The stories they have, as well as their gratitude is incredible."

Higgins and Vaughan would like people to know that F.I.S.H. is always looking for volunteers and, of course, donations are instrumental, since the group is run entirely by volunteers and takes no money for any of the services they provide.

"About once a year I like to remind people that we are here, and we've been here for a long time," said Higgins. "We're very proud of what we do, how we do it, and the people we help. We do no formal fundraising - I think we're unique in that way. We rely on the generosity of individuals, organizations ... the churches. We had a wonderful outpouring for the Basket Brigade this year from people who just wanted to help with collecting toys and doing things for us, which was very heartwarming - just to know that the community supported us in that way."

In keeping with the spirit of generosity toward this community's children, the Basket Brigade has partnered with the Pilot program to pay for the youth's meals and has also funded school field trips, and school supplies, such as computer equipment for the children of Pine Island Elementary School.

For the past two years, F.I.S.H. has provided the kids at the Pine Island Playhouse Theatre Camp funds to go to the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre for a summer show. Higgins said they continue looking for ways to partner with a focus on the children and youth.

If you're thinking of volunteering with F.I.S.H., please remember, confidentiality for every call is an essential part of the work done by this organization.

Volunteers and donations are needed to continue the services offered by F.I.S.H.

If you are interested in becoming a F.I.S.H. volunteer, call 283-4442, or attend one of the group's meetings held on the first Thursday of each month at 3 p.m. at Pine Island United Methodist Church, at 5701 Pine Island Road, Bokeelia.



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