20% of children in Lee County are facing hunger, above the state average, and those numbers have been on the rise ever since COVID-19 hit. Since peanut butter and jelly are staples in a child’s diet, one organization is trying to make a record-breaking collection of PB&J in Fort Myers on Monday.
Hunger is a big problem in our community, especially with gas and food prices way higher than usual; one in six people in Southwest Florida struggles with hunger. Stefani Edwards, CEO of Community Cooperative, says they do an annual PB&J drive because that is one of the most wanted items at the food bank. In 2021, they say more than 3,000 lbs of PB&J got delivered. Edwards says the people she sees at the mobile pantry lately are people who are employed but still struggling to put food on the table for their families.
“Hunger in our community continues to be an issue,” Edwards said. “It’s a real issue. And honestly, as gas prices, inflation, rental costs, everything is going up, we’re starting to see more and more individuals, different families than we’ve ever seen before who are starting to come and utilize our services. They’re having a hard time. They’re having a hard time making ends meet. And organizations like Community Cooperative are here to help them with food assistance when they need it.”
Edwards says they served almost 43,000 people in 2021 alone and they serve around 40 households each day. With summer approaching, a lot of kids won’t be able to rely on meals at school. Edwards says the goal of the mobile food bank is to provide meals for any- and everyone who needs it.
“Our numbers have started to rise,” Edwards said. “I wouldn’t say they are similar to pandemic numbers. I mean, we saw astronomical 400% growth across all of our programs. It was a crazy time. But I can tell and our staff can tell, as gas prices, food costs, everything starts to go up, people—working people—that’s who we’re really seeing are just having a hard time making ends meet. So, our numbers are increasing.”
Edward says if you are someone who needs assistance don’t be hesitant or embarrassed, because the pantry is for everyone.
You can donate to Community Cooperative at 3429 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Find more details on how and what to donate at the Community Cooperative website.