Fighting Hunger, Feeding Hope in Southwest Florida

From by Clare Algozin
Fighting Hunger, Feeding Hope in Southwest Florida

The Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida (HCFB) has been working since 1983 to provide direct services to those in need, including church food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, disaster relief agencies, and more. HCFB’s many programs, in partnership with over 150 agencies, are responsible for distributing rescued food, establishing pantries, and enrolling residents in food assistance programs.

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Monica Monahan, Grant Manager at the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida.

Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?

Monica Monahan (MM): The Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida contributes to creating a better food system through the following core activities and services:

  • Fresh Produce Rescue: The food bank began the Fresh Produce program in 2008 with the intent of providing more fresh fruits and vegetables. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, the food bank distributed more than 6 million pounds of fresh produce collected through area farmers, retailers, Feeding America suppliers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other sources.
  • Retail Store Food Rescue:  The food bank has established partnerships with more than 140 grocery/retail stores, including Publix, Walmart, Winn-Dixie, and Target.  In FY 2014, our rescued food accounted for more than 7.2 million pounds of the annual food distribution of 18.7 million pounds.  Primarily comprised of dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables, rescued food provided more than 6 million additional meals to those in need and was valued at US$12.3 million. The retail rescue program ensures children, families and seniors have access to a variety of dairy, meat, and vegetable products to provide a balance of key nutrients needed for optimal health.
  • Mobile Food Pantry (MFP) Distribution Program: The MFP program directly addresses low-income communities where poor nutrition and chronic hunger are commonplace. Using refrigerated trucks, Mobile Food Pantries contain approximately 8,000 pounds of food. Families can select grocery items such as frozen meat, bread, rice, beans, peanut butter, cereal, and produce. In FY 2014, more than 300 mobile food pantries were conducted in 88 locations and distributed 3.3 million pounds of healthy food and produce.
  • Agency Partner Food Distribution: The food bank distributed 18.7 million pounds of food and other grocery items in FY 2014. Valued at US$32 million, this food equals approximately 15.5 million meals for people in need. The food bank distributes food to more than 150 partner agencies throughout the five-county service area. These partner agencies serve more than 30,000 people monthly.
  • In-School Pantries:  In cooperation with Collier County schools, the food bank helped establish pantries in high-need elementary schools where the majority of students are on subsidized meal programs.  Families conveniently have access to emergency food at their child’s school on designated pantry distribution days.
  • Food Drives and Food Donations:  By the end of fiscal year 2014, HCFB received more than 1.4 million pounds of food through food drives and private food donations.
  • Agency Food Purchase Program: As a direct service to HCFB’s partner agencies, the food bank buys food in bulk at much reduced prices. In fiscal year 2014, HCFB purchased more than 917,000 pounds of food to be distributed through partner agencies.
  • Government Commodities Program:  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awards government commodities to the food bank through the Florida Department of Agriculture and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. The food bank received a total of 2.9 million pounds of food in fiscal year 2014 for distribution by food pantries participating in the USDA program. Collier County food pantries typically do not participate in the government commodities program.
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP): The Harry Chapin Food Bank is the only food bank in the state of Florida to launch the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for low-income residents ages 60 years and older in Collier and Lee Counties. The food bank is in the process of enrolling 2,400 individuals to receive a box of food each month until they no longer need the assistance. The food, which is provided by the USDA, includes canned fruits and vegetables, juice, dry beans, rice, peanut butter, and cereal. Nutrition education and outreach materials— including recipes and health tips — go with the food package.

Through collaborative measures with our retail partners, farmers, partner agencies, and continued financial support from our grantors and donors, the Food Rescue and Distribution program is projected to increase by a minimum of 10 percent in FY 2015.

FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of? Please explain.

MM: The food bank takes pride in the Fresh Produce Rescue and Distribution program, which offer a variety of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables to our clients. Approximately 33 percent of all food distributed is fresh produce. The produce program began in 2008 and distributed 69,000 pounds of fresh produce. Since that time, the food bank has distributed nearly 30 million pounds of produce to help our families in need.

FT: What are your goals for 2015 and beyond?

MM: Our mission is to overcome hunger in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Lee counties in Florida through education and by working in a cooperative effort with affiliated agencies in the procurement and distribution of food, equitably and without discrimination.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank is committed to a future where the people of Southwest Florida are free from hunger. We see a future where HCFB:

  • Is the leading advocate for the elimination of hunger in Southwest Florida
  • Establishes and maintains a distribution network that reaches our neighbors in need
  • Obtains food and commodities necessary to meet the needs of hungry Southwest Floridians in our service area
  • Educates Southwest Floridians about the nature of hunger in our communities
  • Involves a stable and growing base of support from communities throughout Southwest Florida
  • Creates an environment that attracts and nurtures staff, board, and volunteers

HCFB’s program administrative staff and Board of Directors have coordinated with other programs, agencies, and organizations to work together to end hunger in Southwest Florida. This includes participation in numerous anti-hunger campaigns, child-hunger awareness, homeless and food coalition meetings, and other venues that have a precise focus and mission to reduce the meal gap throughout Southwest Florida. Each year, HCFB sponsors the Hunger Summit to address concerns regarding hunger and to work together to find viable solutions to ending hunger. Key initiatives consist of expanding food rescue and distribution by 10 percent and increasing donor support by 5 percent annually.

FT: In one sentence, what is the most important thing eaters and consumers can do today to support a more sustainable food system?

MM: Eat nutritiously and eat locally grown food when possible.

FT: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?

MM: Volunteers are a vital component to the success of HCFB programs. More than 3,000 volunteers assist with all levels of operations, clerical, administrative, public speaking, food sorting, packaging, distribution and serving on the board of directors.

In 2014, our volunteers collectively provided 52,653 hours of service. This is a market value of more than US$1.2 million in in-kind services. Individuals can contact the main phone number to speak directly to the Volunteer Manager, Tanya Phillips (239) 334-7007 ext. 141 or can submit an application on line at

Download the 2014 Good Food Org Guide HERE.

Submit your suggestions for the 2015 guide HERE.

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