Pine Island FISH (Fellow Islanders Sending Help), along with the generous support of individuals in the community, and corporate and nonprofit support throughout Southwest Florida, were able to make 125 island family’s Christmas holiday a little brighter this year. The group is pleased to announce almost 300 Greater Pine Island and Matlacha children the opportunity to replace some of their toys lost due to Hurricane Ian.
Karen Durand, Basket Brigade chair said, “We wanted to implement our annual program, especially with the significant losses our islanders experienced, but were unsure of the number of children who would be returning to the island, post hurricane. In addition, we were faced with significant challenges in terms finding usable space to collect and distribute the toys, enough volunteer help to implement the program given everyone’s focus on their own property, and finding enough donors since much of past donations have come in from businesses on the island. It turns out almost everyone came back since the total number of families and children who pre-registered was very similar to last year.”
She continued, “We changed the format to be a toy store to better accommodate our challenges and remain flexible. It allowed our parents to shop for the kids. The outpouring of support from individuals through the churches, businesses who have reopened and many others throughout Southwest Florida has been overwhelming to the point of allowing each child to receive 4-5 toys plus stocking stuffers.
“Due to significant donations from Pine Island Winn-Dixie, Matlacha Quilts R Us, Matlacha Hookers, the Blessing Bags Project and Midwest Food Bank, we were also able to host a gift store for children to shop for their parents or guardian, so everyone in the family benefited. In addition, we were able to make 30 additional gift bags for distribution to seniors who live on the island.”
The FISH Basket Brigade Christmas Store program was a huge success, primarily due to the generous donations and support from the Matlacha/Pine Island District Fire Stations, OLMM Catholic Church, Fishers of Men Lutheran Church, Pine Island United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church of Pine Island, Pine Island Library, Friends of the Library, American Legion, VFW North Fort Myers and Pine Island Auxiliaries, American Legion Auxiliary, Centennial Bank, First Horizon Bank, Matlacha Hookers, the Matlacha “Quilts R Us” Club, Winn-Dixie, Bokeelia Art Gallery, Greater Pine Island Kiwanis Club, the Greater Pine Island Elks, Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, Pine Island Leaders of Tomorrow (PILOT), Creative Coast Preschool, Cape Royal Community and Golf Club, RE/MAX Sunshine, Real Tours, Sam’s Club, Open Text, Classic Christian Academy in N. Fort Myers, the Blessing Bags Project in Bradenton, Healthy Start, Lee County Sheriff CRU, United Way Lee County and many individual donors both on the island and across the country.
Darcy Conner, incoming Basket Brigade chair said, “Regardless of the format, the FISH Basket Brigade program continues to be a resounding success which our parents very much appreciate. All the volunteers felt so grateful to be part of this community program. Seeing the smiles and gratitude on our client’s faces makes it all worthwhile. It proves once again, the island truly does take care of its own. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!”
Guy Vaughn, Pine Island FISH president said, “We are so thankful to have dedicated volunteers make these big programs happen.
We greatly appreciate the return of many individuals and groups from outside our area this year who responded right after the hurricane by boat and road with much needed emergency supplies. This Christmas Toy Store offered many of them yet another way to help our islanders get back on their feet.
New volunteers for all our programs are always welcome.”