In a proclamation heralding the 30 years of community services provided by the local not-for-profit organization known as Friends In Service Here (F.I.S.H.), the City of Sanibel has declared January 30 as a community wide celebration that will be recognized as F.I.S.H. of Sanibel 30 Rocks! Day.
The rocks, of course, refer to array of stylized stones artfully arranged for an auction benefitting the organization during anniversary festivities on that same day. But to better appreciate the rocky road experienced by clients for which F.I.S.H. provides assistance, one need only speak with Christine Swiersz.
A licensed, clinical social worker, Christine is a fairly recent hire who is the organization's first full-time social worker.
Christine Swiersz stands in the food pantry of F.I.S.H. where more than 50,000 pounds of food was distributed to needy families of Sanibel in 2011. As the pantry supplies experience great decline during summer months, she hopes the community will help it to stay as stocked during the summer as it is right now.
She makes a point that among the many nice restaurants and nice resorts of Sanibel, one will find a collection of people, but not in the form of diners nor property guests; these are the people that clean the rooms, clean the tables, take menu orders and maintain facilities in such a way as to merit satisfaction from thos that live, work or pay visit to the community.
These workers, though highly appreciated, are often not highly compensated, says Christine. So when stricken by a medical emergency, accident or some other economic impact, these people experience particular financial hardship that can be made all the more dire for those caring for young children.
And regardless of whether something may only be a temporary crisis, trouble is indeed trouble Christine note, and can be very troubling for those dealing with it.
These are the waters in which F.I.S.H. swims. But to be sure, F.I.S.H. assistance is in no way limited to help for those experiencing financial struggles. Their services involve a plethora of practices which can include helping provide transportation to medical appointments, providing food for those with limited means to secure nourishment and connecting families and/or individuals with virtually any kind of social service need required - as Christine says, "we have the contacts and utilize all the necessary agencies of the region... we all work together."
She also asserts that F.I.S.H. clients represent all ages and professional backgrounds. In one recent case, a family characterized as middle income and business owners experience a reality which has become all too familiar in Florida. Their business had experienced a decline and in the struggle to maintain mortgage payments, insurance costs, and essential life needs, the family reached a point where they couldn't even afford to purchase food for dinner. Christine says the family was embarrassed to ask for help, but did not know where to turn for assistance.
F.I.S.H. sprung into action, helping the family connect with physician care to attend to a sick child; helping the family secure food and other necessities and though the family eventually lost their home, they've been able to keep their business open, and meet their immediate family needs.
Christine has lots of stories just like that, which stands to reason as the organization is credited for assisting more than 120 Sanibel families last year. This includes providing more than 30 youth scholarships to summer programs, providing more than $133,000 in financial assistance, and loaning more than 330 pieces of medical or health-related equipment.
As someone who was born and raised in Florida, whose career has been encompassed by social service duties, Christine says she has seen so much as to be little amazed by the range of hardships people can encounter. The only thing, she says, that amazes her today is the lengths that staff and volunteers of F.I.S.H. will go to serve those who are in need.
She points to a room where a box of toys sits, having been received earlier in the day. The toys came from a mother of two children who were recently assisted by F.I.S.H. Christine says the family was so grateful for the help they received, they decided to donate the toys so they could be shared by families with children whose needs might be greater than their own.
Christine says many clients often return to F.I.S.H. to volunteer, donate materials, or provide labor, all out of gratitude for help they previously received.
Last year, the organization's food pantry distributed more than 50,000 pounds of food, and it is in this regard Christine accounts of what would be a particular wish for F.I.S.H.
She says during the summer months on Sanibel, when Island population is less than in-season, food pantry resources experience great decline. There's also less volunteers that assist during the summer months. Though less people may populate the island, Christine says there are those who still remain with need. The organization continues to meet needs as they come, but she says in the summer, that task is made more difficult. She hopes the community will help to ensure their food pantry stays as stocked in the summer as it is right now.