FISH of SanCap helps Ian survivors celebrate holidays again

Reporter: Peter Fleischer
Published: Updated:

Almost 15 months after Hurricane Ian decimated southwest Florida, one local group continues to give back for the holidays.

The damage from Ian was historic up and down our viewing area, but no area got hit worse than the barrier islands of Captiva and Sanibel. Today, the area’s beauty remains. But many in the community still aren’t back. And if they are, they’re certainly not back to “normal.”

“I’m so inspired by everything that has been done, but still there’s a lot more to go,” admitted Liliana Mancini, a resident of Sanibel for more than 34 years. 

Mancini’s house has been repaired since the storm, but you can still see signs of just how hard it was hit. There’s still paint peeling and signs of damage from the six feet of storm surge. Some of the wall and panels behind her home that were ripped off by triple digit wind speeds still haven’t been replaced. And the cracks in her wood floor remind her that it will eventually need to be ripped up.

Sometimes, moving forward feels impossible.

“It’s very emotional. It took a lot out of me,” Mancini confessed. “I don’t know how to explain that. I started losing faith at one point.”

FISH of SanCap is a human services organization on Sanibel and Captiva that has focused almost exclusively on Ian recovery. Executive director Maria Espinoza says Mancini’s situation isn’t uncommon.

“I think as the holidays roll in, you see people, they’re incredibly grateful for how far we’ve come,” Espinoza, “but you still see challenges facing survivors along the way.”

FISH is working to make sure that Ian survivors aren’t forgotten about as time goes on. Many residents on the island are still working to piece together their old lives. Where they were once handing out bottles of water and medical supplies, they’re now providing different kinds of aid.

“It’s just ever-changing, and you’ve really got to be able to react to whatever the needs of the community are,” Espinoza explained.

As the calendar closes on 2023, more people are returning to their homes on the barrier islands and finding a bit of comfort. But some homes sit empty. FISH hosts furniture giveaways twice a month on Fridays, helping to refurnish homes that need it. 

“There’s still hope. There’s still light,” Espinoza promised. “And we can make a difference in every person’s life.”

For people like Mancini, every resource has helped. But she feels FISH’s impact can be felt in the love that those people share.

“FISH was there. FISH was there for them,” Mancini said through teary eyes. “Personally, emotionally, physically and mentally, they’re there.”

The holidays don’t quite feel normal on the barrier islands but there’s still plenty to celebrate.

FISH is continuing their furniture giveaway through the holidays. Their next scheduled event is December 29th. They are hosting a holiday distribution drive, giving away toys and holiday meal kits from December 20 to December 22.

More information about FISH’s services can be found on their website:

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