“What we’re struggling with is we’ve spent the last, about six years, just responding to the tsunami of need here in Southwest Florida and as things have leveled off,” said Harry Chapin Food Bank President and CEO Al Brislain. “Some of the emergency food programs have seen their count go down, but there’s still a lot of need out there.”
The Harry Chapin Food Bank’s annual hunger summit brings together representatives of the organization’s more than 150 partner agencies to discuss how to improve the services they provide to those in need.
“We’re going to talk a little bit at the meeting about, ‘What can we do in addition to giving people food to help them become more self-sufficient and at the same time be respectful of their needs?’ ” said Brislain.
The Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed 17.5 million lbs. of food in 2013 compared to the roughly 4 million lbs. of food distributed each year pre-recession. Even with that growth, they’re not able to completely meet Southwest Florida’s hunger needs.
“A study just came out a couple weeks ago saying that a quarter of the kids in Charlotte, Lee and Collier Counties are food insecure, meaning they oftentimes don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Brislain. “What was really disturbing is Hendry and Glades counties which we also serve. A third of the kids there are food insecure and those are the most food insecure counties in terms of children in the state of Florida.”
The coming summer months are particularly challenging due to reduced seasonal employment and because kids who would otherwise be fed at school are out on break. “So if it’s a single mom with two kids, she has to provide ten more meals a week for those kids,” said Brislain.
Brislain also said the demographic they serve has also grown to include those who are employed but still struggle to make ends meet. The Hunger Summit takes place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hodges University in Fort Myers.