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The Choice Market: Very special food pantry helps anyone in need on Fort Myers Beach

January 8, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Comfortably nestled behind the Beach Baptist Church, 130 Connecticut St., the Choice Market is set up to provide food and necessary provisions to those in need, preventing anyone from going hungry on Fort Myers Beach.

Rather than just offering a pre-packed bag of canned goods to those in need, which only keeps the hungry hungry, the Choice Market allows guests to come in, peruse the racks of donated items, and take what they will be able to use and enjoy for the week.

Shawn Critser, pastor of Beach Baptist, started the Market in 2009 when he made a startling observation.

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Choice Market volunteer Dawn Gaylor is ready to help a guest go through the items they will need and use for the week. Photo by MELISSA SCHNEIDER.

"Honestly, food markets are the norm, but my desire was to make a Choice Market. I was in Publix one day and saw two children ask their mothers for the cereal you find on the lower shelves (the sweet, name-brand, far more expensive ones). In both instances the mothers had to deny their children because it wasn't covered by the WIC program (government-funded for low-income women and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing foods to supplement diets). I thought it would be nice to be able to set something up where, not only can those in need get what they need, but they can also get some fun snacks and treats that we can easily take advantage of."

That's why, along with the racks and racks of canned vegetables, meats and other necessities in the Choice Market, you'll also find some fun snacks and treats, too, such as popcorn, chips and those fun cereals.

"It was a lot of work to get the Market started, but it was all worth it. We help an average of about 1,040 people a month. During the slower times of the year, in season (when more are employed), there are around 900, and during the busier times, off season (when many lose their jobs due to lack of business), there are about 1,400," he said. "What we found out is around 70 percent of what is just handed out at a food pantry is recirculated; there's only a certain amount of canned yams someone can eat. It's more sustainable to give someone something they'll eat; if you give them food they're not going to eat, they'll still be hungry."

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Most of the Choice Market's inventory is gathered from the Harry Chapin Food Bank. Every week, organizers of the local Market use the funds from their 100-percent non-profit donations at Harry Chapin so they can provide far more food and goods than the retail-priced world.

"Every $1 donated is worth about $6 in food from the Harry Chapin Food Bank,"?said Craig Nelms, director and "heart" of the operation. "It's always wonderful when our community makes donations to our Market, but we can always make the monetary donations go even farther at the Harry Chapin Food Bank."

The food bank, USDA-approved, just like the island Market, primarily provides the organization with canned vegetables, canned meats, canned soups and some frozen and refrigerated meats, lunch meats and dairy items, but other items are harder to come by.

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What you can do to help

There are many ways to help the Choice Market, but the biggest way to help is by making a monetary donation to the fund.

"Monetary donations go so much further, as we can use a smaller amount to get much more food through Harry Chapin," Craig said.

If you'd like to make a food/item donation, toilet paper, any personal hygiene items, canned soups and reusable bags are always in need.

And, next time you're remodeling your kitchen, be sure to give Craig a call (239-362-7500), as he might have use for your functional refrigerator or freezer. The Market has about six or seven of them running at a time, each individually storing chicken, pork, beef, dairy and other items that must continually remain cold/frozen.

"Our appliances are all gratefully donated, as well, so we never know the life expectancy. If one goes out, we have to be ready to quickly and safely transfer the items," he mentioned.

"This is our community we're all in this together. Their need is our need, their problems are our problems. I consider it an honor that we are able to funnel that food from Harry Chapin into our local community. It's a wonderful feeling, helping someone and then after a little while, you notice they no longer come by it's a good thing it means they've gotten back to work, gotten back on top of things," Shawn said.

Craig and Shawn are both extremely appreciative to all of the Fort Myers Beach residents and businesses who always lend a helping hand especially when the need is dire.

"Our beach businesses, guests and residents are always wonderful with making donations to the Market and everything is appreciated. We want to thank the community for all of their help in the past and for all of their help in the future they're a big part of keeping this going, and we truly appreciate all of their help. We get a lot of volunteers who just stop in and help us. The ongoing support is overwhelming," Shawn said. "This is all of our community. We're all in this together and we need to take care of each other."

To get in touch with the Choice Market, feel free to email Market@

BeachBaptist.org, or call Craig Nelms, 239-362-7500. If you'd like to make a donation anytime of year, please make your check payable to Beach Baptist, and in the memo line, write "Choice Market."

All donations are tax-deductible, and all funds stay in the non-profit Fort Myers Beach Market, for use in continuing its efforts for anyone in need on the island.

"We can always, always use more toilet paper donations and other personal hygiene products, as those are usually items we have to buy retail to provide," Craig said. "Anything from shampoos, bars of soap, sunscreen, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, can openers and plastic grocery bags we go through a lot of plastic grocery bags."

The Market also receives a hearty donation of breads and baked goods from our very own Fort Myers Beach Publix bakery, providing some other harder-to-get special necessities to those in need.

"That has been a very huge help for us those are items that are otherwise very hard to come by, that we really can't get anywhere else," Craig said.

Other times, the Market is graced with fresh produce from local farmers, such as corn, bananas, oranges and other healthy, essential items.

Should you visit, you'll find The Choice Market has a very warm, friendly and inviting atmosphere, and Craig said no one is ever turned away.

"Many think our Market is only for the homeless, and that's not true. Most who come to the Market are unemployed and underemployed lots of families. Some may need sustenance for a couple of weeks, others longer. Many food banks only allow guests to come by once a month or so we allow everyone to come by every week. We never turn anyone away, and we're here for as long as they need us."

Pastor Shawn, Craig and their volunteers not only help feed those in need on Fort Myers Beach; they gain relationships with those who shop at the Market, doing what they can to help them along their way, whether it's to find a job, find a place to live, or anything else that's a part of life.

"We have Internet access at the Market, so we can help sign them up for food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid. We help them find jobs, find new places to live. We help however we can. We want to further them along as much as we can, to provide the ability for them to progress."

Choice Market volunteers load up at the Harry Chapin Food Bank every Wednesday, restock their shelves, and then open to those in need every Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"All you have to do when you come in for the first time is sit down with us so we can find out some information about you, find out what you need. Any time after that, you just come by and sign in, so we can keep track of your numbers and see how you're coming along. If you need help in certain ways, such as obtaining food stamps or finding a job, we'll help. Then, you go through the Market and select the items that you need for the week," Craig said.

Helping the cause and the Hunger Walk

Coming up, a very special fundraiser is taking place at Miromar Outlets, the sixth annual Hunger Walk, Saturday, Jan. 18, for the Harry Chapin Food Bank and the local charities who work with the organization.

Our very own Choice Market is one of the non-profit agencies signed up for the walk, and any funds donated to the charity's fundraiser account remains in that fund for the Market to use at the Harry Chapin Food Bank anytime after that.

"Absolutely 100 percent of the funds we collect goes to our Market goes to helping our beach community there are zero-dollar administration fees and no other fees. All of the money goes directly back in to getting food for the Market, and all of those funds stay on the beach,"?Shawn said. "Our goal is to collect around $3,000 during the Hunger Walk. It takes around $9,000 to keep the Market up and running, full of food, throughout the year, and we're trying to raise as much as we can to keep the shelves stocked."

Butch Critser, Market volunteer and Shawn's father, said the slimmer-inventory parts of the year are through the summertime, and toward the end of every month.

"Our needs are greater in the summertime, as many have lost their jobs on the beach in the off-season, as well as the second half of every month, when whatever government assistance or income they had is heavily diminished," he said.

If you'd like to make a donation for the Choice Market's fund in the Hunger Walk, please make your check payable to Beach Baptist, and in the memo line, put "Choice Market Hunger Walk."

What you can do to help

There are many ways to help the Choice Market, but the biggest way to help is by making a monetary donation to the fund.

"Monetary donations go so much further, as we can use a smaller amount to get much more food through Harry Chapin," Craig said.

If you'd like to make a food/item donation, toilet paper, any personal hygiene items, canned soups and reusable bags are always in need.

And, next time you're remodeling your kitchen, be sure to give Craig a call (239-362-7500), as he might have use for your functional refrigerator or freezer. The Market has about six or seven of them running at a time, each individually storing chicken, pork, beef, dairy and other items that must continually remain cold/frozen.

"Our appliances are all gratefully donated, as well, so we never know the life expectancy. If one goes out, we have to be ready to quickly and safely transfer the items," he mentioned.

"This is our community we're all in this together. Their need is our need, their problems are our problems. I consider it an honor that we are able to funnel that food from Harry Chapin into our local community. It's a wonderful feeling, helping someone and then after a little while, you notice they no longer come by it's a good thing it means they've gotten back to work, gotten back on top of things," Shawn said.

Craig and Shawn are both extremely appreciative to all of the Fort Myers Beach residents and businesses who always lend a helping hand especially when the need is dire.

"Our beach businesses, guests and residents are always wonderful with making donations to the Market and everything is appreciated. We want to thank the community for all of their help in the past and for all of their help in the future they're a big part of keeping this going, and we truly appreciate all of their help. We get a lot of volunteers who just stop in and help us. The ongoing support is overwhelming," Shawn said. "This is all of our community. We're all in this together and we need to take care of each other."

To get in touch with the Choice Market, feel free to email Market@

BeachBaptist.org, or call Craig Nelms, 239-362-7500. If you'd like to make a donation anytime of year, please make your check payable to Beach Baptist, and in the memo line, write "Choice Market."

All donations are tax-deductible, and all funds stay in the non-profit Fort Myers Beach Market, for use in continuing its efforts for anyone in need on the island.

 
 

 

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