Our Daily Bread: Food pantry seeing a 300 percent spike in need

Lance Shearer

The volunteers at Our Daily Bread Food Pantry face a dilemma. With the economy largely ground to a halt, the need for food assistance has grown drastically. But the coronavirus that caused the economic disruption has made person-to-person contact fraught with peril, and you can’t hand out groceries over Zoom while working from home.

Our Daily Bread has seen the number of clients spike at their regular Saturday morning food pantry, held at the Family Church on Winterberry Drive. Last Saturday, the group fed 428 families, up from about 115 the same week a year ago. Those 428 families consisted of 1,840 people – men, women, and children.

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Add in another 159 households given food at the mobile food pantry held Friday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and 35 families that made appointments during the week, and Our Daily Bread provided food assistance for 622 households, a total of 2,674 individuals for the week. And they did it all while social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, and disinfecting the carts they used to deliver the food items after each run.

Each family received a variety of foods, including milk, eggs, meat items such as frozen hot dogs, chicken and hamburger, fresh fruit and vegetables, orange juice, fresh bread, snack boxes, and a box of non-perishables such as dry beans, rice, pasta and pasta sauce, canned vegetables, canned tuna, beans, breakfast cereal and peanut butter. In all, each parcel is about 45 to 50 lbs. of food, along with personal hygiene items and toilet paper.

So, the volunteers had to acquire, store, refrigerate, package and distribute over 28,000 lbs. of food, all while attempting to stay six feet apart – and they’ll do it again next week.

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Saturday morning, a long double line of cars snaked through the parking lot at the Family Church, waiting to pick up their food. A host of volunteers packed bags of produce, filled shopping carts with milk and meats from cold storage, and loaded up the items into recipients’ vehicles. ODBFB president Jo Anne Lundquist was on disinfectant duty, wiping down each shopping cart after its trip outside.

Volunteers tallied the number in the family and the zip code of their home, but recipients did not need to answer any income questions or qualify for donations. While many came from East Naples, there were also Marco Islanders receiving food.

Volunteer James Cuevas loads groceries into the truck of Jesus Marti. Our Daily Bread food pantry fed 622 families on Marco Island last week, providing each with at least 45-50 lbs. of a variety of grocery items.

“No one in need of food should be turned away,” said Liz Pecora, vice president and director of communications for Our Daily Bread. Like everyone working for Our Daily Bread, she is a volunteer.

“A lot of people wonder why we have to have a food pantry on Marco Island,” said Nancy Kot, director of volunteers for the organization. “There’s many, many people in need. In normal times, there are a lot of people in need, working two or three jobs because the cost of living in southwest Florida is so high.”

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With the health crisis in the middle of the season, leading to massive unemployment, “our numbers have just skyrocketed,” she said.

Our Daily Bread sources food aid from all over. They receive food from many sources, with the Harry Chapin Food Bank providing 63 percent, some of that coming from USDA. The grocery stores on Marco Island also provide food through what Our Daily Bread calls “retail rescue.”

“Stephen Sheppard at Winn-Dixie has been a great partner,” said Pecora. Our Daily Bread is a 501(c)3 charity and accepts tax-deductible monetary donations. They also have donation boxes for non-perishable items behind the church.

Pecora estimates the group can leverage financial contributions by up to eight times, using bulk purchasing, which also allows them to target the specific items they need. So, if you are clearing out your pantry before heading north, they would love to receive your canned goods, but going to the store to buy food to donate is not as efficient as giving them the dollars to use as they need. The easiest way to donate, said Pecora, is to go online to ourdailybreadfoodpantry.com.

“We’re currently experiencing a 300 percent year over year increase in need. We have served approximately 9,600 individuals in less than one month,” she said.

“We have the most generous community, who have gathered together to help each other out,” said Kot.

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Pastor Mark Williams of United Church of Marco Island, which has donated over $75,000 to Our Daily Bread, said “the way they’ve adapted their operations to the circumstances is amazing. In these circumstances, the temptation is to back down. But the food pantry has stepped up and opened up the hatches.”

The food pantry will return to the Family Church at 1450 Winterberry Drive on Saturday morning from 9 to noon. This Friday, their mobile food pantry will be at Manatee Middle School at 3 p.m.