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Feeding People. Nourishing Lives.

An Organization Who Cares and Serves

Article by Stefanie Edwards & Aubrey Sewell

Photography by Submitted by Community Cooperative

Originally published in Fort Myers Lifestyle

Community Cooperative is so much more than just a soup kitchen, even though that is what is most well-known for.  Its overall goal is to support and strengthen those whose lives have been affected by hunger and homelessness, ensuring that they have access to the resources necessary to transform their lives with dignity.  In the early 1970’s, First Presbyterian Church and two other downtown Fort Myers churches saw that there was a need in the community to serve the downtown area’s homeless and hungry. They began passing out peanut butter & jelly sandwiches out of their cars, which then evolved into the idea to start an organization. In 1984, the Fort Myers Soup Kitchen was formed and thus began the evolution to what we know today as Community Cooperative.

This is their 36th year as a grassroots nonprofit organization.  They have physical locations in Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, and Cape Coral for their various programs and services.  Community Café is a crucial piece of what they do to feed their neighbors in the community which includes a Community Market/food pantry available for those in need where customers can shop like they would in a grocery store. They also have a Social Services and Education department that houses incredible social workers dedicated to working with clients through budgeting, goal-setting, applying for jobs, etc. to help them get back on their feet. The Meals on Wheels program serves over 1,000 homebound seniors in the community every day with hot, fresh meals prepared in their own kitchen. Mobile Food Pantries reach all corners of Lee County to bring food access to families who might not be able to get groceries otherwise. Getting a hot meal at the Community Café is often a foot in the door for people who need more than a meal, and when they reach out for that extra assistance, Community Cooperative is there for them.

Community Cooperative works hard to take a wholistic approach to the issues of hunger and homelessness. What may begin as serving a warm meal to a stranger can turn into a partnership to bring wellness and growth to their clients. Their goal is to meet the needs of those at risk, walk alongside them as they work on bettering themselves and their families, and then send them on their way to live a more full and meaningful life. This is why it’s important to them to be a multi-faceted outreach organization with comprehensive programs to not only reach more people in need, but to be able to assist those people in ways that are best for them individually.

The personal stories of individuals and families Community Cooperative has helped to get back on their feet is what inspires and motivates them to keep going. There was a family that came to CC shortly after hurricane Irma needing assistance. A single mother and her three school-aged children were escaping domestic abuse, had just lost their home in the hurricane and were living in their small station wagon.  They visited the café just looking for a warm meal. Community Cooperative met them and began working with them to rebuild, and a year and a half after that first meeting, the mother is gainfully employed, the kids are excelling in school, and they’ve moved into their own house.

More recently amidst the pandemic, they’ve had countless families sharing words of gratitude at mobile food pantries, letting them know that “without this food, [they] wouldn’t make it.” People are finding themselves in need of assistance who have never needed organizations like this before. When you look at the difference in numbers from last year to this year just through July, it is evident just how crucial their work is in the community to help keep people afloat in these unprecedented times as they have aided over 30,000 unique individuals. Since COVID-19 began, their service numbers are up over 400%. The organization really rose to the critical need of supplying much needed groceries to so many folks during the pandemic. What started in early March, hasn’t slowed down.  On account of the pandemic, they grew their Mobile Pantry program from eight pantries (scheduled monthly) to sixteen, opening several new locations.  What served an average of 150 households per pantry prior to the health crisis has now expanded to serving an average of 300 households.  In 2019, through all of their comprehensive programs they served more than 30,000 unduplicated individuals in SWFL. With the turn of events in 2020, they surpassed that number in May.

So. with this unprecedented need right now, how can you can help?  Volunteers are always needed and welcomed. They couldn’t do what they do without the 3,500+ dedicated volunteers who support their work each year. The biggest areas of need for volunteers are with Mobile Food Pantries and delivery drivers for Meals on Wheels. Those interested can learn more and apply at communitycooperative.com. Monetary support is also greatly appreciated as they, like many other organizations, have had to cancel or postpone fundraising events that they count on for dollars each year. They were able to have their biggest annual fundraiser just before the pandemic hit in March and are hoping to have it in 2021. In the meantime, any and all support is deeply appreciated.

FORT MYERS OFFICE

3429 Dr. Martin Luthér King, Jr. Blvd.

Fort Myérs, FL 33916  

FORT MYERS BEACH OFFICE  

Chapél By thé Séa Présbytérian Church

100 Chapél Stréét

Fort Myérs Béach, FL 33931

(239) 332-7687

Facebook.com/communitycooperative

Twitter.com/FtMyersSoupKtch