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6 days ago, 10/16/2014 at 4:54pm

Arlene FisherA Place at God’s Table

There are those among us on our little island paradise who, for one reason or another, find themselves in need of help with things that most of us take for granted. For some, a meal, a shower and a fresh change of clothes could make the difference between getting a job or not. For others, help with applications for financial or medical assistance could literally make the difference between life and death. Too, there are those who are just a few paychecks away from homelessness, and all they need is a little help to carry them through. For many in our community, the moral obligation to help the less fortunate burns brightly and for years they have come together to shine a bright beacon of hope at God’s Table.

God’s Table is an ecumenical program established in 2001 and offered at Chapel by the Sea providing for the homeless and needy of the Fort Myers Beach area, a safe place where food is shared; clothing is provided; assistance offered and where dignity and God’s love are extended. So reads their mission statement and their clients would agree.

Volunteers, like Team Leader Arlene Fisher, arrive at 6:30 AM to prepare food, sort clothing, and do whatever is needed to be ready for their arriving ‘clients’ at 7:00 AM. For the next hour and a half, anywhere from twenty to fifty people arrive for breakfast, a shower, some clean clothes and the warm camaraderie one finds there each morning. Fisher says they are "most definitely mostly people who live here and on San Carlos Island.”

Since Community Cooperative took God’s Table under its auspices three months ago, Fisher says the services their clients are able to access have significantly expanded beyond a breakfast, bag lunch, showers and assistance with food stamp and Medicaid applications. Now offered are life skills coaching and money management classes, Goodwill Industries JobLink program, SalusCare outreach program for mental illness and addiction issues, and several other assistance and outreach programs from Family Health Center, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Salvation Army and the Veterans Health Administration. But the folks at God’s Table want people in the beach community to understand that it is not a ‘handout program’.

"This is a holistic approach,” explains Community Cooperative’s Community Relations Director Stacey Cannington. "We like to see our clients have some skin in it,” teaching them about budgeting, food preparation and healthier eating, how and where to apply for jobs and housing assistance, how to access transportation and health-related and addiction services. Admitting there are some individuals who will probably not make any real changes in their lives, Cannington is passionate about the help CCMI provides. "There are some people who are homeless because of the system,” she says. "They may qualify for benefits but cannot apply for them because they have no I.D. We help them with things like that.” This program embodies the spirit of the old Greek adage ‘God helps those who help themselves’.

Cannington hopes those in the community who have questions about the program or are interested in volunteering or helping in any way will come to the Fish Tale Marina Ship Store next Tuesday, October 21st, where Community Cooperative’s CEO Tracey Galloway, and Social Services Director, Roger Mercado, will be on hand for a meet-and-greet to discuss the program in detail. Hosted by Al and Kathy Durrett, the event will run from 5 - 6:30 PM, and light hors d’oeuvres will be served.

Maria Ford has been Program Director at God’s Table since it was taken in under CC umbrella. Ford has always been a volunteer on behalf of those who so desperately need help with the basics of survival. "I love my new job,” Ford tells us as she keeps watch over Wednesday morning’s crowd. A client and a volunteer catch her eye, needing her attention, and off she goes.

One of the clients makes his way over with a friendly but determined look. He introduces himself, and then offers heartfelt compliments about Ford, Fisher and all the folks who help out at God’s Table. "We are all so appreciative, so respectful of them and what they do here,” obviously wanting to convey how important the program and its staff are to him and his fellow clients. "They give us what we need and they are so nice, so kind.”

As Fisher continues to check in with new arrivals, she talks about the various programs and types of help folks can find at God’s Table. But she believes that for many of their clients, a place at God’s Table provides a sense of belonging.

"It’s just knowing somebody cares about them.”

Jo List