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MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island civic organizations plan to provide food for underprivileged children – a lot of them.
The goal for the upcoming Meals of Hope packaging event is 150,000 meals, all of which will stay in the Southwest Florida community, to help families who would otherwise face hunger. The effort is a joint effort of the Kiwanis and two Rotary Clubs, Marco Island's Sunrise and Noontime Rotary groups.
Tuesday evening, the clubs held a fundraiser at the Marco Island Brewery to collect money for the project. With the volume purchasing power Meals of Hope provides, each meal costs only 20 cents for the ingredients, but with the goal at 150,000 meals, that means the organizations need to raise $30,000 to cover expenses.
"The cost per package is phenomenally low," said event co-chairman Neil Snyder. "This is the first time all three clubs have been co-organizers." This is the third year the event will be held, with the goal up from last year's 120,000 meals.
"It's a big goal, and great to be a part of it," said Dick Shanahan.
"There's nothing better than feeding the kids," added Debra Shanahan.
Before they get to feeding the kids, the attendees at Tuesday's event were being fed themselves. Marco Island Brewery, the host for the event, donated complimentary hors d'oeuvres for all, including pizza, meatballs, golden-fried fish and a display of melons in what looked like a Dr. Suess car, made from a watermelon.
"The brewery made a huge contribution," said Snyder. "They gave us the food, and we get to keep the admission charge."
The actual food packaging event will happen on Nov. 17, from 9 to 11 a.m., at the Marco Island Charter Middle School. Over 500 volunteers will form into teams of 10, ladling rice, beans, soy protein, vitamins, minerals and dried vegetables into plastic bags, heat-sealing the bags, and boxing them up for distribution.
Steve Popper of Naples, the founder of Meals of Hope, said the group, founded in 2007, gives away the packaged meals to Collier Harvest and the Harry Chapin Food Bank, who distribute them to local needy families.
Holding up a filled bag, each of which contains six meals, he explained how the food gets used. The meals can be easily heated just as delivered, or the recipients can supplement them, adding ingredients to suit their tastes and what they have on hand.
"Families can add some chicken or sour cream and salsa for about two dollars, or just eat it as it is," said Popper. "This meal works well for all ethnic groups."
All the meals produced stay in this area, he emphasized.
"People don't realize there are people right here in Naples who don't get enough to eat." He added that the group's purchasing power, buying groceries by the pallet load, enabled them to leverage contributed dollars, making it much more efficient than donating canned goods.
But the best part of Meals of Hope's model, Popper and those who volunteer agree, is the feeling of accomplishment from working hands-on to help others.
To purchase raffle tickets, or simply donate to the Marco Island Meals of Hope event, call Barbara Prigge at 389-0512. To volunteer or donate to Meals of Hope, a 501(c)3 organization, call Steve Popper at (239)537-7775, or go online to www.kidsagainsthungerofswfl.org.