Happy to help: Meals of Hope season kicks off with happy hour at CJ's

Lance Shearer
The first Happy Hour for Hope of 2018 was Monday, Jan. 29 at CJ's on the Bay in The Esplanade.

Along with tourist season, tax season, and of course, winter, one more season has commenced on Marco Island: Meals of Hope season.

Meals of Hope, the Southwest Florida-based food charity, fundraises year-round on Marco to generate money for non-perishable meals for the area’s needy. On Nov. 17, hundreds of volunteers will, in just a few hours, package hundreds of thousands of meals through the Meals of Hope program, creating nutritious, low-cost meals to feed the staggering number of families in this area who don't have enough food to eat on a daily basis.

Gene Burson samples the hors d'oeuvres. The first Happy Hour for Hope of 2018 was Monday, Jan. 29 at CJ's on the Bay in The Esplanade.

On Monday evening, approximately 80 donors came by CJ’s on the Bay, raising money to help provide funds to purchase the bulk foodstuffs that make up the meals to be packed, in the first Happy Hour for Hope of 2018. A blustery wind whipped outside, leaving only hardy souls such as Gene Burson sitting outside near the buffet line.

Inside, Rosetta Stone, accompanied by her musical and life partner Tom, entertained with her song stylings, in what has become a Happy Hour for Hope tradition. Island attorney Bill “Captain Hope” Morris, who has taken on coordinating the Marco Island “food raising” campaign, said the group will host monthly events, with the next happy hour scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26 aboard the Marco Island Princess. The Princess will not disembark during the event.

Meals of Hope can provide a healthful, nourishing meal for just 25 cents, but in order to pack 200,000 servings, even with all-volunteer labor, it must raise about $50,000. The group’s purchasing power, i.e. buying groceries by the pallet load, enables it to leverage contributed dollars, making it much more efficient and beneficial to write a check rather than donate canned goods. 

Meals of Hope organizer Bill "Captain Hope" Morris talks with Kimberly Porter. The first Happy Hour for Hope of 2018 was Monday, Jan. 29 at CJ's on the Bay in The Esplanade.

Marco Island’s Kiwanis and two Rotary Clubs take turns sponsoring the Happy Hours for Hope. Each of the service clubs – the Sunrise Rotary, Noontime Rotary and Kiwanis – kickstarted the Meals of Hope effort by donating $4,000 to the cause. During Monday’s event at CJ’s, the Noontime Rotary wrote an additional check for $1,000 to keep fundraising on track. Club president Tarik Ayasun presented the check, along with Pat Ettenson, chair of the Rotary Foundation. 

At CJs, Craig Woodward kibitzed in the corner with Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy and City Manager Lee Niblock, while attendees enjoyed happy hour drink prices and the complimentary buffet provided by the restaurant, featuring pulled pork, teriyaki chicken, baked beans, coleslaw and watermelon. 

Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dianna Dohm chatted with the chamber's new president Erik Condee, who has been a longtime stalwart at the Meals of Hope packing events, arranging logistics and power. The chamber has a couple upcoming events of its own, including the Souper Bowl, which starts at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Mackle Park, and the Wet Paint Live fundraiser on Feb. 15.

To learn more about Meals of Hope or donate to the Marco Island packaging event, call the Law Offices of William G. Morris, P.A. at 239-647-6020 or visit mealsofhope.org.