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Marco Island church feeds families in need with its 'Our Daily Bread' food pantry

Lisa Conley
lisa.conley@naplesnews.com; 239-213-5308

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of weekly stories over the next month highlighting the need to Satisfy The Hunger, a Naples Daily News initiative. In its second year, the campaign collects food donations and raises money and awareness about hunger in Southwest Florida.

For nine months, Ray Furman lived out of his car in New Jersey. He had a full-time job, but after taxes and child support, he was left with just $93, which had to last him two weeks.

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The Army veteran was too proud to ask for help, though, so he carried on as if nothing was wrong. It wasn’t until a car crash left him physically unable to work that he finally told his mother about his situation and moved to Marco Island to live with her.

“I was just barely surviving, you know? I had to go into the office early every morning to take sink showers, and it was just really tough,” he said. “And then in 2008 I got hit by a car when I was taking my morning walk, and that messed me up both physically and up here a bit,” he said, tapping a finger to his head, “so the state told me I had to stop working.”

Ray Furman stands in the stockroom at the "Our Daily Bread" food pantry at The Family Church of Marco Island on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. The food pantry is open on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Furman, now living in Fort Myers, volunteers at the pantry and church.

Things are still tight for Furman, 53, his mother and his daughter, who also lives with him. The family recently moved to Fort Myers, where housing is a bit more affordable. Luckily, they’ve been receiving help from the “Our Daily Bread” food pantry on Marco Island.

“Without them, it’d just be impossible,” Furman said. “I get Social Security and VA benefits, but it’s not much, so I’m really grateful for these folks.”

Our Daily Bread is a relatively new endeavor; it began in 2016 after some local teachers informed church leaders that a lot of their students go hungry on the weekends.

Thirty-eight percent of Tommie Barfield Elementary School students and 41 percent of Marco Island Charter Middle School students receive free or reduced-cost meals, "and a lot of times those meals at school are the only ones they get,” said Liz Pecora, Our Daily Bread community coordinator.

“It’s eye-opening, and you realize that not everyone down here is on vacation.”

Ray Furman rests his hand on one of the shelves in the stockroom at the "Our Daily Bread" food pantry at The Family Church of Marco Island on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. The food pantry is open on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Furman, now living in Fort Myers, volunteers at the pantry and church.

Leaders from nine churches united to found Our Daily Bread, which is at The Family Church on Winterberry Drive. The pantry is open to the public the second and fourth Saturday each month, and it’s open to church members the third Sunday. Pecora said they help about 50 families each distribution day.

“We open at 10 a.m., but people will be here waiting in line as early as 6:30 a.m.,” she said. “That just shows how hungry they are.”

None of what Our Daily Bread does would be possible without the help of its many volunteers, Pecora said, including Furman, who said he tries to volunteer and help others as much as he physically can.

The food pantry also receives support from numerous community organizations, and this year it will benefit from the Naples Daily News’ Satisfy the Hunger food drive, an initiative that aims to feed and meet the needs of families during the summer.

Last year’s food drive raised $31,286 in donations, with matching funds of the same amount, bringing the total to nearly $63,000. The drive also resulted in 5,000 pounds of donated food.

Liz Pecora, community coordinator for the food pantry, walks around the stock room at the "Our Daily Bread" food pantry at The Family Church of Marco Island on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. The food pantry is open on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.

This year’s goal is to raise $90,000 and 8,000 pounds of food.

"Many of our guests work seasonal jobs, so in the summer their hours get reduced, and they have to work two, maybe even three jobs just to get by," Pecora said. "It's definitely our busiest time and when we need the most help feeding our families."

The community drive will be held every Friday through April 28.

If you go

What: Satisfy the Hunger "Take a Bite Out of Hunger" drive

When: 8 a.m. to noon Friday

Where: Naples Daily News, 1100 Immokalee Road