Choice Market, the food pantry at Beach Baptist Church on Fort Myers Beach, provided a crucial stopgap this past year when the COVID-19 pandemic put thousands of Fort Myers Beach workers out of jobs.
While many of those jobs have returned as the season picked back up in town, many workers are still relying on the pantry to catch up and make up for lost income.
This month is the annual fundraiser for Choice Market. Craig Nelms, who runs Choice Market, said the pantry’s numbers have gone up. He estimates the pantry is serving 1,150 people a month these days, up from about 1,083 people on average this time last year.
Nelms, who has been director of the market for the past 11 years, said the activity at the pantry normally subsides during the season. That hasn’t happened this year.
“When season’s up, our numbers go way up,” Nelms said. When the season’s over, the numbers head down.
“Our numbers haven’t really gone down in season this year,” he said. “We had a lot more people and Harry Chapin (Food Bank) had a lot less food.”
The market’s organizers are looking to raise $8,000. as part of the fundraiser, which is scheduled to run through Feb. 23.
“We had to buy a lot more this year,” Nelms said. “It’s been a rough year and a half.”
According to information from Beach Baptist Church, which helps administer the food pantry program, they had to buy about 60% more items at retail price this past year. The pantry distributes more than 100,000 pounds of food in a year.
Choice Market is the only food pantry serving the families, workers and others on Fort Myers Beach. Helms estimates that about 8% of those served are homeless. In addition to the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Choice Market receives food and other goods from Midwest Food Bank, Publix Supermarkets as well as donations of canned goods and non-perishable items from the community. In addition to food, the pantry offers toothpaste, shampoo, razors,
The pantry helps some people “to pay a bill here or there,” Nelms said. “It takes some stress off.”
The pantry is open every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those visiting for the first time have to fill out paperwork for bookkeeping purposes and U.S.D.A requirements, Nelms said. Nelms said most who use the pantry work on the beach or are living in the Fort Myers Beach zip code. He will point others to the pantry closes to them but says “I never turn anybody away.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those visiting the pantry are asked to wait outside and check off a sheet of what food and goods they need.
Nelms said the pantry has always received the support of the community. “Our community always steps up for our market,” he said.
Those wishing to donate to the pantry can drop off food items and other ]send checks made out to Beach Baptist Church with “Choice Market Hunger Drive” in the memo and mail them to:
Beach Baptist Church
130 Connecticut Ave.
Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931