Our Daily Bread: Food pantry delivers in a rainstorm

Lance Shearer

For people waiting to pick up free food Friday afternoon from Our Daily Bread Food Pantry, the torrential downpour only “wetted” their appetite.

Rain or shine, we all need to eat, and that has become a greatly increased challenge for thousands in Southwest Florida, who have seen jobs disappear or work hours slashed as the area, along with the rest of the nation and the entire world, deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

Talking to the people waiting to receive supplies on Friday afternoon at Our Daily Bread’s mobile food pantry in the parking lot at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Marco Island – to the extent possible with language issues, social distancing and masks, and the challenge of conversing during a rainstorm – the problem of not having enough work to provide for the family came up again and again.

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Maria Rodriguez works as a housecleaner, when she has work. She said she is down to just two to three hours a week, she said, while trying to pay the bills for her family of four, including children aged 13 and 17.

Naomi Cardozo and her brother both do restaurant work, a category in which demand for labor has fallen off a cliff. She lives in east Naples but came to Marco Island to receive her parcels of food and supplies.

Raul Antonio, in his car with Irma Carrillo and his daughter Daneth, is another food service worker, and told the same story ­­– “we have very little hours,” he said.

Rodrigo Gabriel Jiminez was not in a car. He was riding his three-wheeled cycle, pedaling from his home nearby to pick up his bags of food. He was soaking wet but still had a smile and was willing to get just a little wetter to speak with a reporter, also foolhardy enough to be standing out in a tropical downpour.

The bags of food, at least, were protected in plastic bags, and while the recipients stayed in their cars, the volunteers were out in the thick of the rain. They swarmed around to load groceries in the trunks or back seats of cars, or the covered beds of pickup trucks, only sheltering inside the “Al’s Pals” trailer when the water came down in sheets.

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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 feminine products, personal hygiene items and toilet paper. Volunteers added dog food or cat food for families with pets.

Last week, Our Daily Bread set a new record for the number of people and families served, said Liz Pecora, director of development and communications for Our Daily Bread, providing supplies for 717 households representing 3,083 individuals.

“By May, we had already served more people than we served in all of 2019,” she said. “With the additional requests for food, we are on pace to service over 100,000 guests this year, which is approximately a 400 percent increase” over last year. And they are doing it in the teeth of the pandemic, which has not only caused the economic disruption but also made person-to-person distribution fraught with peril.

The main distribution point for Our Daily Bread is their regular Saturday morning food pantry at the Family Church on Winterberry Drive. Their mobile outreach is at St. Mark’s on alternate Fridays, with additional giveaways at Manatee Middle School, Naples Manor and Henderson Creek near Walmart. No one in need is turned away.

Using bulk purchasing and alternative supply sources, which also allows them to target the specific items they need, Our Daily Bread can buy food much cheaper than consumers can. So, if you are clearing out your pantry, 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, or to see a schedule of giveaway locations, said Pecora, is to go online to ourdailybreadfoodpantry.com.