Pine Island, a place of great natural beauty, is located about 10 miles west of Cape Coral, Florida, and is surrounded by Pine Island Sound, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The island is 17 miles long and from 1 to 4 miles wide. It has no beaches on the Gulf. There are 4 separate communities, all unincorporated, Bokeelia, Pineland, St. James City and Matlacha. The residents are from all walks of life, ranging from those with less than a high school education to those with several post-graduated degrees. Homes may be modest manufactured homes or upscale structures. The character of Pine Island is largely rural. Primary occupations are still commercial fishing and service industries (restaurants, grocery stories, banks, pharmacy). There are no theaters, department stores, big box stores, public transportation facilities or traffic lights. Although there are several doctors and dentists, there is no hospital or medical testing facility. There is one school, Pine Island Elementary. Children going to middle and high school must attend schools in Cape Coral or other surrounding communities.
In the early 1980’s, a group of islanders got together to provide transportation for those no longer able to drive and to provide respite for those caretakers who needed to run errands. In Feb. 1986, Lilian Kemph and Betty Elmquist met to talk about the need for volunteer services on Pine Island. They continued to talk off and on during the next 6 months.
In the summer of 1986, the Consortium of Agencies Serving Older Adults in Lee County discussed unmet needs on Pine Island and other outlying areas of the county. One of their recommendations was that Age Link assist in developing FISH organizations on Pine Island and Ft. Myers Beach. FISH service organizations were already established on Sanibel and in Lehigh Acres.
In September 1986, Lois Allen, the new Age Link volunteer coordinator met Lillian at a conference on aging in Orlando. Contacts were made with local churches, the Chamber of Commerce and organizations such as the Kiwanis, VFW, and hobby clubs to share information about the planned FISH and to ask for input and assistance. Contact was also made with FISH of Lehigh Acres and Sanibel. Both organizations freely shared information on how their organizations began and how they are currently structured. When Lois told Lilian that Lois’ job included starting a FISH organization on Pine Island, an alliance was immediately formed. Upon returning to Ft. Myers, arrangements were made for a meeting with Lois, Lilian and Betty. Their first meeting was Oct. 16, 1986 and then subsequent FISH meetings were held at least weekly through Feb. 1987, the day after FISH services began on Pine Island.
The 1987 Steering Committee, pictured here, developed the board structure, the types of services to be provided (transportation, telephone reassurance, friendly visiting, minor home repairs, temporary meal preparation/ household chores, shopping and respite), created job descriptions, and the process by which volunteers would provide service, maintain records, etc.
The original group of three (Lois, Lilian and Betty) was increased to a group of six with the addition of Earl Enge, Mary Shaw and Laura Rider. The first Board of Pine Island FISH consisted of these six and two additional members, Carol Dossing and Dr. Lou Mauney.
The first donation was from Kiwanis ($50) to install a phone line, then within a few weeks a fund-raiser was held which resulted in contributions of about $500. Below is the press coverage of this early fundraiser.That was the entire FISH treasury in February 1987, but we were on our way!
The Pine Island FISH organization applied for and received tax exempt status as a 501c(3) organization in April 1994. The organization also registered with the State of Florida..
By the mid 1990’s, FISH was 54 volunteers strong and still maintaining their high level of service. Calls for services rose from 349 in 1988 to 1320 during 1995. There was always a continuing need and recruitment of volunteers. The summer season was always the hardest time of year to find volunteers; an issue that lasts until present times. In addition, FISH joined a community effort in November 1995 to establish the Pine Island Community Food Pantry; a service that continues through the present. Below is an Eagle article on the Pantry from April 10, 1996.
The Pine Island Food Pantry became independent of the FISH organization in January 2009.
As time went on and FISH was no longer involved in the needs of only the elderly or disabled, our articles of incorporation and bylaws were revised to indicate the expansion of the original "missions" and clients. We're a completely volunteer organization and all activities are initiated from the homes of volunteers. There is no central office or paid staff. The majority of funds come from Pine Island/Matlacha or, sometimes, from those who have connections with local residents, with minimal assistance from any government agency or grants. Our only overhead is for rental of the mobility equipment storage unit, telephone, office supplies, and the yearly requirements from IRS and the State for registration and audits.
As additional funds began to appear in our mailbox and as time progressed, we were able to expand services, to include the Basket Brigade which can provide assistance for Back to School Clothes, Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. Prior to the FISH Christmas Basket program, there were several churches and organizations that provided holiday assistance for families. This meant that some received several baskets while others were overlooked. Since 1991, there has been just one island-wide Christmas Basket Brigade, supported by our churches, organizations, and a host of generous individuals. In 2000 we added the Clothes for Kids program which ensures that children have new outfits for their first two days of school.
In order to expand our message into the electronic age, FISH continues to develop their website, www.pineislandfish.org to bring information to both volunteers and interested potential volunteers and donors.
In light of the difficulties presented in the last two years, Pine Island FISH is particularly grateful for the outpouring of support from our donors, volunteers and Valued Partners. In addition to donations throughout the year, our community really stepped up to support the Clothing for Kids and Christmas Brigades in 2021.
With the support of so many we were able to shift many of our processes online and use safety protocols to loan over 400 pieces of mobility equipment and offer over $25,000 in financial support to those in need. We also were able to help over 150 of our island children get their school year off to a good start with new clothes and shoes and brighten Christmas for over 270 children and their families with toys, stocking stuffers, and holiday meals. We regretted having had to curtail our transportation services for some time during the pandemic, but even so, we were able to transport over 120 clients to needed medical, dental, financial and related appointments, as well as provide pick up and delivery from the food pantry.
We were fortunate to continue our partnerships over the year with the Matlacha Hookers, Beacon of Hope, Pine Island Food Pantry, several churches, and the Pine Island Elementary School to ensure support to all island residents in need.
Pine Island FISH is entering its 36th successful year and continues its endeavors for those in need in the greater Pine Island areas - all made possible by such generosity.