With a Little Help From My Friends
“Many people have a misperception about our average customer,” says Craig Nelms, director of the Choice Market at the Beach Baptist Church at 130 Connecticut Street. “They are not homeless or helpless, but are actually your neighbors. Most Choice Market customers are not unemployed but underemployed, especially during the summer. They just need a little help to get by. Since we provide food, they can pay the electric or water bill or seek medical treatment. Everything adds up and every bit helps!”
To help take your stand against hunger, join the 9th annual WINK News Feeds Families Hunger Walk on Saturday, January 21, at the MIROMAR Outlets at 10801 Corkscrew Road in Estero, 33928, with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m. and the walk at 9:30 a.m. Preregister with at least a $50 donation by Sunday, January 8, and receive a commemorative t-shirt. The goal is to raise $100,000, with pledges totaling $78,000 already made as of January 4. To register go to http://harrychapinfb.dojiggy.com; for information contact Marta Hodson at 239-334-7007, extension 132, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This fundraiser is more than just a walk, but is in a very real sense a celebration,” Craig relates. “This actually describes all the food banks in our community, and all we accomplish, as well as supporting one-another, getting rejuvenated, and bouncing around ideas. We all have common issues, so it is great to talk to each other and think to yourself: ‘Oh, that will work here, too!’”
The Hunger Walk is a flat donation, with Craig explaining that “you can earmark yours directly to Choice Market, so that your money comes to us specifically, staying on our island – it is a Win-Win! When you make out your check, just be sure to write ‘Choice Market Hunger Drive’ in the memo section.”
It’s Your Choice
Choice Market began six years ago, with Craig the director the past five. “The original food bank operated just a few months before closing, allowing me to observe what did and did not work. We reopened a few months later and are still here, as God is good and we always seem to find a way to survive.”
Craig reasons that “our name is perfect, because we are a ‘Choice Market;’ you walk through and shop and select what you like, because if we force it on you, no matter how hungry you are, you may not eat it. The ‘Choice Market’ trend of allowing consumers to choose their own meals works!”
Almost as important as the food is the shopping experience, Craig says. “We walk people through the Market, not only to familiarize them with the products, but to establish a relationship so the experience becomes much more than just the food and that is cool. We hope everyone feels relaxed and welcome here, so take your time and let us know how we can help.”
Choice Market services an average 1,046 mouths per month, a significant increase over its early years but now relatively consistent over the past three. “Numbers were initially low,” Craig states, “because we were new; now people know about us. We serve fewer people in the winter, when employment in Southwest Florida is at its peak and the growing season strong, but then June comes and we creep up each month until peaking at Thanksgiving. That makes it tough because the time of year we have the most people in need, we have the least food. I am always happy to see our numbers fall because that means people are working and can better support themselves.”
The Harry Chapin Food Bank is the primary sponsor for Choice Market, with Craig describing that organization as “Amazing! They provide for four large counties and I am just one little guy, yet they take such good care of us all – it is wonderful to be a part of that experience and very cool! Midwest Food Distributors are relatively new to our area, coming from Illinois, and they send merchandise to us once a month. Midwest Food is a good organization and nice group of people, and their contributions seem to increase every time. Publix Supermarket right here on Fort Myers Beach is a superior partner, as they donate bread two or three times each week; they are so special!”
Craig explains that today’s food banks are not what many envision, or were like in previous eras: “People used to receive a bag of canned goods, but today our clients enjoy plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with frozen meat and other perishable items, and this works, as they now eat healthier than ever. Our refrigerator selections change every month, with beef, pork, chicken, milk, lunchmeats, and assorted food.”
Choice Market is open every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and patrons are welcome each week, with Craig describing Thursdays as “crazy! There are food pantries that allow you to shop only every other week, and some just once a month, but that makes no sense to me because you eat well for a week then starve for 25 days. Once-a-week allows you to select fresh produce and meats for healthier options.” Choice Market accepts food stamps, and can help you sign up for them if you qualify, but they do not offer assistance with medical insurance or any medical programs.
Stretch a Dollar!
“It would be nice if more people and businesses donated cash rather than product,” Craig offers, “because we stretch a dollar! We can buy 6 cans of food for $1. We appreciate those who donate food, and will never turn them away, but I can transform a monetary contribution into a lot of loaves and fishes, as Choice Market goes through 9,000 to 10,000 pounds of food each month.”
Mary Escue is a Choice Market volunteer as well as a Beach Baptist parishioner since the 1970s. “I generally donate my time on Wednesdays, but I just recently retired so I will do a lot more, as I love working with Craig! I so enjoy helping our customers, and by making a contribution to the community, I feel wonderful myself.”
In addition to the Hunger Walk, you can contribute to the Choice Market at the Beach Baptist Church’s Retreat Dinner on Wednesday, January 18, at its Retreat Center at 5:30 p.m. Craig relates that “Beach Baptist hosts a soup and bread retreat dinner every Wednesday for the entire congregation, with a bible study after, for just a $3 donation. Proceeds from that meal will come directly to the Choice Market.” For information contact email@example.com or reach the Church at 239-463-6452.
Craig calls the best part of Choice Market “the people we serve and support, and the good feeling you have when you go home at night, knowing our neighbors and children have food. Somehow there is always enough, and sometimes that feels like a miracle! It’s funny, but I used to worry that we would never make it, but we are still in business so that is perfect. I finally get it, learned my lesson and no longer worry!”
To help Craig rest worry-free, join or contribute to the Hunger Walk on Saturday, January 21, at the MIROMAR Outlets, or donate money or food directly to the Choice Market. You will sleep well at night, too!