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Beach Baptist Church getting the food out

By Staff | Apr 8, 2020

Craig Nelms volunteers to help run Choice Market next to the Beach Baptist Church on Connecticut Avenue, where there has been a 20% uptick each week in activity since the hospitality industry on Fort Myers Beach went into the doldrums. NATHAN MAYBERG

While the coronavirus pandemic and the related government actions have led to a near shutdown of the hospitality industry on Fort Myers Beach, the work and mission of the Beach Baptist Church has not changed.

The church has become the focal point of efforts to help the needy, including children and families with out-of-work breadwinners due to the economic downturn. Most restaurants and hotels on Fort Myers Beach are currently closed with some hotels having only minimal occupancies. Thousands who were working at establishments on Fort Myers Beach are currently without work.

“We are the food bank for every student under the age of 18,” said Shawn Critser, pastor at Beach Baptist Church. From Monday through Friday, the church serves as a host site providing breakfast and lunch meals to Lee Schools students who need them. The schools prepare the meals and deliver them to the church, where they get distributed. Students get a cold breakfast and lunch on Mondays and Fridays, with hot meals served Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

On Tuesdays, the Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile unit is providing boxes of food with items such as peanut butter, beans, fresh vegetables, canned goods, potatoes and some non-perishables for families, Critser said. Critser said the food is available to anybody in need. The church is one of 12 sites in the county where such food boxes are distributed.

Critser said there were more than 100 families last week to pick up food from the mobile unit. Every Thursday and Sunday morning (before 10:30 a.m. services), church members are preparing hot breakfasts that can be picked up.

“We have quite a few volunteers,” Critser said.

The Choice Market, which is adjacent to the church and operates under the umbrella of the church every Thursday, has been seeing an increase in activity of about 20 percent each week since the collapse of the hospitality industry in town. As restaurants have closed in town in recent weeks, several dropped off extra food to the market.

Critser started a Gofundme account titled “Feed the Beach” to help fund The Choice Market. The market, which is subsidized by the church and through the contributions of the community and local nonprofit organizations, met its goal of raising $8,000 in January to replenish the food pantry. Critser said the market has enough funds to get through this month, but will need to draw on the funds of the church next month.

“It will be our No. 1 church priority as long as it needs to be,” Critser said.

The church is still holding services, as Gov. Ron DeSantis has encouraged religious institutions to continue their work during the pandemic. Critser said the church is careful to abide by social distancing guidelines, limiting the number of people who can attend services, while moving others to an outdoors area where they can watch the services on a screen.