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Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Nov 01, 2023 09:30AM ● By MAGGIE GOLDSMITH

The FISH team (left to right): Erika Broyles, senior services director; Emery Lowden, social media and resource manager; Maria Espinoza, executive director; Manuela Martinez, disaster administrative director; Merari Salinas, community outreach manager; Nitza Lopez, social services director; Andrea Rubio, disaster program coordinator. PHOTO BY SHANE ANTALICK

FISH helps the islands with social services

FISH of SANCAP, the only wrap-around social services agency on Sanibel and Captiva islands, helps local residents and workers with social services, education, and other forms of assistance. The organization’s vision is to create island communities where all people have the support they need to thrive.

When FISH began in 1982, its 40 volunteers delivered meals for house­bound seniors, provided transportation off and on the islands, loaned medical equipment, made phone calls to check on neighbors, and delivered books to residents from the Sanibel Library. FISH continued to grow its neighborly programs by forming a hurricane commit­tee, which helped evacuate vulnerable residents, and hosting Friendly Faces lun­cheons to bring the community together. It added a walk-in center in 2007 to make FISH more accessible to those seeking assistance, and it established the food pantry in 2008.

Today FISH relies on nearly 200 vol­unteers and a small professional staff to assist nearly 5,000 neighbors a year.

If there is not a service in place for unmet needs of community members, FISH works to provide it through an expan­sive regional network, made possible in part by its United Way House designation.

FISH views every client individually, because every situation is unique. Often a visit to FISH is a symptom of a larger underlying problem, so by tailoring client assessments, FISH is able to help people get back on their feet more quickly. Over the past decade FISH has been ground zero for dealing with natural and environ­mental crises, the impacts of Covid, and most recently the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Through this unprecedented disaster crisis, the agency has continued to offer programs representing its four major pillars: food, island-based education, social and senior services, and the Helping Hands financial assistance program.

FISH food programs include a full-service pantry, open five days a week, for island residents and work­ers who qualify. Included in the pantry are paper products and personal hygiene items, which are not covered by the SNAP (food stamp) program. As resources allow, FISH stocks items specific to older adults such as Depends and Ensure or Boost, as well as child-friendly foods, snacks, and juices. The orga­nization offers a meals-by-FISH program consisting of hot meals delivered to residents’ homes for up to seven days a week, and it has a youth food-backpack program, as well as a food-box program for seniors or homebound individuals.

The island-based education initiative includes workshops and seminars on current topics; the group’s social and senior services include referrals, socialization opportunities, wellness checks through visitation and phone calls, medical equipment, and resources from different programs across the county. Helping Hands is an emergency financial assistance program primarily for rent, utilities, and medical expenses, as well as youth scholarships and adult education. It is available to those who live or work on the islands and meet certain criteria.

As part of its long-term recovery program, a new and developing offering since Hurricane Ian, FISH provides disaster relief, including financial assistance, repair, and rebuilding supplies. The orga­nization is working continuously to deliver financial, emotional, and other types of assistance to island residents and the local workforce, many of whom have been struggling since Ian. FISH works with community members to determine recovery obsta­cles and to solve unmet needs through collaboration with partner agencies when requested assistance is outside of FISH’s scope or resources.

FISH recently partnered with local providers to offer mental health services through group therapy focusing on hurricane-related topics such as trauma and loss. It has hosted open discussions on disaster trauma, including mental exhaustion, decision-making, and financial fears.

Although FISH has grown from the grassroots organiza­tion it started as, it remains a network of “neighbors helping neighbors,” a group of community members committed to the betterment of the islands and Southwest Florida community by assisting one neighbor at a time. FISH says it is proud that 93 percent of every dollar donated goes directly to programs and services.

Maggie Goldsmith, director of marketing and grants, has been working with FISH for more than 12 years.


Walk-in Center
2340-B Periwinkle Way, Sanibel
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For details about hurricane recovery and other services, contact Maria Espinoza, FISH executive director, at 239-472-4775.