The Harry Chapin Food Bank is preparing for the upcoming school year and the fight against childhood hunger, and once again an area supermarket chain is leading the charge.
Winn-Dixie has launched its second-annual Summer Backpack Hunger Relief program in all its stores to help the one out of five children in Florida who don't know from where their next meal will come.
From now until Aug. 19, customers are asked to donate at any store register to help provide meals to those children whose school lunch is likely the only good meal they get.
"As a community food provider, no issue touches the heart of our customers and associates more than childhood hunger," said Rondel Hartwell, Winn-Dixie's director of community involvement and charitable giving, in a statement. "No child should ever go hungry and every child deserves nutritious meals and a healthy start to life."
The Winn-Dixie stores in North Fort Myers seem appropriate, since both border Suncoast Estates, one of the poorer areas in Lee County.
Meredith Holland, public relations manager for Winn-Dixie, said every bit helps those in need.
"Giving back to the community is definitely a main part of Winn Dixie's culture. The people who work in the stores live in these neighborhoods. That they help is a big difference to everyone," Holland said.
Every dollar donated will go directly to 18 regional food banks throughout the Southeast, including Harry Chapin, to help fill backpacks with nutritious, fresh foods.
In Lee County, roughly two-thirds of all children qualify for reduced or free lunch at school, so this is a great resource for needy families.
"We'll be able to order kid-friendly products from Winn-Dixie. Any initiative like this helps the whole community. People are very generous when you make it easy for them to give," said Joyce Jacobs, associate director & disaster coordinator at the food bank. "Having it at the register where people are shopping is the way to go."
Among the foods sought will be fruit cups, power bars and other easy products kids can pack with no hassle, Jacobs said.
Last year, Harry Chapin Food Bank received $1,000 in contributions, Jacobs said. This year, with Winn-Dixie having bought out the old Sweet Bay stores, $3,000 is expected.
For every $1 the food bank receives, it is able to distribute $6 worth of food, or about a backpack full. It provides food for more than 30,000 individuals each month. Last year alone it distributed 17.5 million pounds of food and provided 14.6 million meals.
"Any donation is really appreciated and we're thankful that people are willing to help their neighbors," Jacobs said.
Winn-Dixie was founded in 1925, with 546 grocery stores throughout the Southeast.