20 May 2020 Brighter Bites delivers love with a smile in Immokalee
Six hours in the blazing Florida sun in COVID-19 masks and gloves is no match for the impassioned determination of the Brighter Bites Southwest Florida staff as they distribute healthy food to families in need at the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County’s Immokalee location. It’s truly a labor of love, even if can only be delivered right now with a smile from a mandatory six feet away.
“Just seeing the families and the kids happy when they get the fresh food makes it all worth it. It’s the best feeling ever,” says Marcela Romero, Brighter Bites Southwest Florida program director.
A partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers and Lipman Family Farms in Immokalee represents a collaborative regional effort in which Brighter Bites works to build and sustain healthy-eating communities in areas that lack access to nutritious food options. The nonprofit organization provides fresh fruit, produce and vegetables to 1,100 Collier County elementary school students and their families, comprising nearly 4,000 residents, mostly children.
Romero describes the geographic area they serve as a “food swamp.” Compared with the more widely known “food deserts,” which are low-income communities that lack access to fresh, healthy food choices, “food swamps” are locations where unhealthy food options such as pervasive fast-food and convenience store fare are more accessible than anything else.
School closings in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis abruptly shut down the key food distribution channel families and their children relied on to access the nutritious food Brighter Bites provides. Job losses in the accompanying economic slowdown have added to the challenges.
“It’s been hard for our families,” Romero says. “Everything stopped overnight at the schools, and we had a lot of parents asking about the food because it helps them to get fresh produce every week and it makes it easier for them to cook nutritiously at home.”
Determined to forge a path forward, Brighter Bites shifted from providing healthy food through the Collier County schools they served before the outbreak to organizing food bank volunteers and helping to package, deliver and distribute food at drive-through sites.
The organization, which also provides nutrition education resources and healthy recipes, as well as supports in-class health education, continues to find ways to deliver its vital services.
“We’re using Zoom, and we have a Facebook group for the parents of our families where we post educational resources and cooking videos,” Romero says.
Innovating ways to arrange access to healthy foods during these difficult times, Brighter Bites recently partnered with Southwest Florida Winn-Dixie stores to provide the families they serve four $25 produce vouchers. The vouchers will enable the families to select from participating Winn-Dixie locations the fresh fruits and vegetables that best meet their needs.
During these times of profound disruption and uncertainty, Romero says the support of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been indispensable. She particularly notes the Foundation’s decision to remove restrictions on Brighter Bites’ community impact grant. This crucial action allowed Brighter Bites to quickly respond and redirect funds that previously had been designated for specific initiatives to go toward their families’ food voucher program and ongoing day-to-day operations.
“Their support has meant the world to us,” she says. “It’s helped us to keep going and get creative with our programs at a time when we’ve needed to instantly adjust to an entirely new set of challenges.”
Summer may be heating up, but so is Brighter Bite’s resolve to serve those who depend on them. For more information about how you can help, please contact Marcela Romero at [email protected] or call 305-962-8070.
This article is part of a summer series that highlights the vital work of regional recipients of 2020 Community Impact Grants from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.