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Choice Market filling community need

By Staff | Jun 18, 2020

Six months ago, Choice Market was fundraising to help replenish its pantry amid increasing food costs. The Fort Myers Beach food pantry, which operates every Thursday under the umbrella of the Beach Baptist Church on Connecticut Ave., has received a boost from the community and then some.

It was not long after the pantry received much-needed donations from community members and organizations as part of its fundraising efforts that the COVID-19 pandemic shut almost the entire hospitality industry down in town.

Pantry manager Craig Nelms said he and the Choice Market volunteers were wondering what they would do with an expected surge in need. He estimates there was a 50% increase in people visiting the pantry for assistance beginning in March after businesses were forced to close down. “We put it in God’s hands and it shows up,” Nelms said of the donations that poured in from individuals and organizations to help as the pandemic hit.

“They knew how this was going to affect the workers on the island,” Nelms said. “We could have really been left high and dry.”

Nelms said the demand on the pantry is now about 25% more than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s starting to get back to a kind of normal,” he said. “Some are doing better than others. Those who got their unemployment are surviving it. Some never got their unemployment. A lot of them have got back to work and that’s helping now. The last couple months, everybody was in the same boat.”

Choice Market has three main food providers in Harry Chapin Food Bank, Midwest Food Bank and Publix. Nelms said Harry Chapin Food Bank has been a major provider of produce each week while Publix has been supplying bread and meat.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners have also allocated $3 million from its CARES Act funds to local food banks, including $5,000 grants to every food pantry.

Those who visit Choice Market get to choose from a large menu of canned vegetable goods, soups, pasta options, meats, fruits, vegetables, peanut butter and jelly, among other options. The market also has personal hygiene items such as toothpaste and laundry detergent.

The Choice Market volunteers and Beach Baptist Church members help provide daily meals delivered from Lee Schools to students in need as the church is a host site. “It’s been a lot of hours,” Nelms said.

“The community’s been really good throughout this whole thing,” Nelms said. “They’ve really stepped up.”

Choice Market is open every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.