Sanibel and Captiva Islands are, for many who live and visit here, a paradise found rather than lost. The pristine conserved landscapes and white sand beaches make these islands unique and beautiful by anyone’s standards. Those who spend time here regularly also know that what makes these communities even more unique is the deep sense of community spirit and togetherness that is shared.
FISH of Sanibel-Captiva was born from that deep sense of community care and nearly 40 years later remains the Islands’ only wrap around social service agency. Started by a group of islanders banding together to help their neighbors with rides to medical appointments or evacuating during Hurricane Season, the non-profit has grown to nearly 40 programs and services ranging from a full-time food pantry and emergency financial assistance, to senior services and community educational workshops, to youth food and education programs for the islands’ youngest neighbors. Their motto, ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors’ remains the bedrock for the work they do on behalf of those who live, work, and visit Sanibel and Captiva.
“The depth and breadth of the services we offer would not be possible without our generous donors and dedicated volunteer force,” says FISH President & CEO, Maggi Feiner. “We run on a lean staff of about 7 full-time employees so the majority of our work from delivering hot meals to seniors, stocking our food pantry, filling kids’ food backpacks, and delivering medical equipment is being carried out by our roughly 200 volunteers.”
There is no such thing as one profile for a ‘FISH client’ because the agency offers something for every person of any age group, demographic, or socioeconomic background. The common thread for those using FISH services is that they’re connected to the Islands by either working, living, or visiting there. However, much of FISH’s focus is on assisting the large workforce that is the backbone to the local tourism-driven economy in addition to ensuring island seniors can age-in-place in a safe and dignified way.
Not only is FISH proud to say that 92% of all donations go directly to their programs, but their program usage continues to grow in nearly all areas. For example, in 2019 the FISH Food Pantry distributed 247,903 pounds of food which equates to 206,586 meals. They assisted with 332 instances of emergency financial assistance for clients in crisis. Over 1160 children’s food backpacks were distributed. 3260 hot meals were delivered to islanders through their Meals-By-FISH program, which is conducted in partnership with Bailey’s General Store. And FISH hosted their first-ever Senior Expo to showcase organizations and businesses that provide services to island seniors.
Feiner adds, “We are truly humbled by the community’s commitment to each other and grateful that FISH is empowered by our neighbors to coordinate our islands’ social services effort. We strive to be a place that serves as a safety net for anyone who finds themselves on Sanibel or Captiva and also a place of gathering like-minded islanders, who want to leave our community better than when we arrived here—and I think, together, we’re doing just that.”