March to a Million Meals: Food insecurity leads first-timer to a food bank

Reporter: Lois Thome
Published: Updated:

Thousands of people in Southwest Florida must make tough choices every day.

Do I buy food for my family or pay the electric bill?

Is it food or the necessary medicine?

The cost of living has gotten more expensive in the area and rents continue to rise. Food costs are also up and Hurricane Ian left many with expensive home repairs and job losses.

That’s why WINK News is kicking off March to a Million Meals, a campaign to feed our neighbors who are struggling.

Debra is nervous.

She’s nervous because it’s her first time at the food distribution in North Fort Myers. It’s actually her first time at any food distribution site anywhere.

“Well, I just lost my job. I was there for three years or so,” Debra said. “My husband has cancer. He’s on Social Security Disability. And, of course, it’s not much to pay the bills. So, I needed to get help. Yeah, I just needed to get help.”

It took a lot to get Debra to a food distribution site.

“I’m sorry,” she said while holding back tears. “I was told by a few friends of mine to do this, and apply for all the assistance that I can get.”

Debra said she also applied for unemployment.

“And here I am. And I’m nervous as heck,” she said, adding that her nerves stem from the belief that others need the help more than she does.

Debra is not alone.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florid feeds 300,000 people every month, many at food distribution sites just like the North Fort Myers one.

“We (are) seeing a lot of hunger this year and a variety of things driving it of course,” said Richard Lever, CEO of the Harry Chapin Food Bank. “You know, we rolled out of the pandemic, and we rolled into some inflation. And anybody who’s tried to buy eggs recently knows that the inflation is not over.”

Costs have risen for a lot of people, Leber said.

“And then, of course, there’s rents,” Leber said. “We had a housing crisis before the hurricane hit, and the hurricane destroyed a whole lot of housing.”

That’s why food distributions are so critical.

More people in Southwest Florida are in need of food distributions. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Families can get nutritious food, canned goods, like spaghetti sauce and beans, fresh fruit and vegetables, and meat, which they can’t afford to buy on their own.

For people like Debra, who never expected to need the help, it’s now become a lifeline.

Now that Debra has gone through it, she said everyone was very sweet.

“They’re very nice and this is a great cause,” she said. “It really is. And I appreciate it.”

Debra is like so many of the working families the Harry Chapin Food Bank helps every month.

In fact, 49% of the people they help are working families, facing tight budgets.

WINK News wants to help and we are hoping you will help, too.


Help us raise $450,000 to put a million meals on the tables of hungry families in Southwest Florida.

You can donate by visiting our March to a Million Meals donation page.

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