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Harry Chapin Food Bank helps partner agencies obtain more food

July 18, 2018
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

As of the July 1, the Harry Chapin Food Bank has eliminated its shared maintenance fees for their partner agencies, which includes Lehigh Community Services.

Harry Chapin Food Bank President and CEO Richard LeBer said when the Food Bank began 35 years ago, a co-op of local organizations helping others decided to chip money into a pot to share food and gas expenses.

The fees, which added up to 1.5 cents to 2 cents per pound of food distributed, were collected from the agencies to offset costs of gathering and distributing food.

This past year, the Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed 24 million pounds of food to 170 of their partner agencies. Since the beginning they have been chipping money into the pot.

"We decided this year to eliminate what remained of it," he said.

Last year, following Hurricane Irma, the Harry Chapin Food Bank suspended those fees for a short time to help its partner agencies recover.

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With the elimination of the maintenance fees now permanent, the Harry Chapin Food Bank will lose about $400,000 out of its $8 million annual budget.

"It's a significant amount of money. Many years ago it was almost all the money we raised," LeBer said.

With the elimination, he hopes it will make it easier on all of their partner agencies, especially the smaller organizations.

"We have big organizations (such as) St. Vincent de Paul and many small organizations that are small pantries in a neighborhood church," he said. The small organizations do not have a large staff, or fundraisers, but rather the pastor allowing the panty to get what is needed from the collection plate during mass. "I don't want that to limit how many they can help."

Lehigh Community Services Executive Director Carolyn Peplow said the Harry Chapin Food Bank has really helped their agencies immensely.

Lehigh Community Services receives 90 percent of its food supply from the Harry Chapin Food Bank. The other 10 percent comes from the Post Office food drive, community donations and food drives.

Without having to pay the shared costs, she said it has allowed them to put that money towards purchasing other types of food for the pantry. Those foods include such items as jelly, spaghetti, rice, beans, canned green beans, corn, mixed vegetables and canned meats, all items purchased frequently.

"We are able to keep our pantry stocked even better than before," she said. "We do our best with what we've got. The more money we have to put in the pantry the better."

Currently, Peplow said their food pantry is in pretty good shape.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank has a long-term goal of growing twice as big as they are now.

"We think that is how much food it is going to take to adequately feed everyone hungry in Southwest Florida," LeBer said, adding that eliminating the maintenance fee will hopefully "make it easier for all of our member organizations to step up and try to feed as many people as they can."

Partner agencies of the Harry Chapin Food Bank have to go through an application process establishing that they are providing food to feed the hungry. They have to be a registered nonprofit, have a proper facility to store food, which is checked to ensure the food is properly and safely handled.

In terms of how much food they receive is determined on how many people they serve.

"We try to figure out how many families an organization is serving and set limits based on that," LeBer said. "We share as fairly as we can."

The Harry Chapin Food Bank provides $8 in food value for every dollar donated. During the fiscal year of 2016-2017, the food bank distributed 22.3 million pounds of food, and other food items, including 6.6 million pounds of fresh produce. The food, which was valued at $37.3 million is the equivalent of 18.6 million meals.

For more information, or to make a donation, call (239) 334-7007 or visit



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