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Bonita & Estero Magazine

Bonita Springs' Cafe of Life Gives Away 120 Backpacks, Looks Forward to More 2017 Special Events

Aug 26, 2017 06:31PM ● By Kevin

COL donated Christmas gifts to this family. Picture taken by a COL volunteer.

Café of Life, a Bonita Springs nonprofit, gave away 120 backpacks at its annual end of summer backpack distribution. The event was held on Friday, July 28, at Leitner Neighborhood Park.

Founded in 1998, Café of Life started out offering coffee to a group of the homeless, who were living in the woods in Bonita Springs. From there, it became "a fixture in Bonita Springs, serving luncheon meals, Monday through Friday, to individuals and families from all walks of life," according to its website.

Café of Life's purpose is to help in meeting the basic needs of the less fortunate people of Bonita Springs. It is an agency of the United Way of Lee County. Volunteers serve an average of 70 hot meals per day.

Up next, the organization will host its annual Christmas party, where volunteers and staffers will provide approximately 200 children’s gifts, as well as a special Christmas meal. The younger children get toys; the older children get gift cards. The sheriff’s department assists with the gift giveaway.

Most years, Easter baskets are distributed to the children around Easter time, as well. On Mother's Day, gift bags are distributed to the mothers. 

Café of Life holds an annual Summer Feeding Program, where, on each Friday of the summer, about 60 families are given a whole chicken, and a pound each of beans and rice.

Aside from serving hot meals and hosting special events, the organization has various initiatives that run throughout the year.

Transportation Program

"The new Nomad Drive food service facility, with its covered eating area, is ideal for serving food, even on rainy days," according to Theresa Moore, who serves on the board of directors. "But its location is not as accessible to those that bicycle or walk as was the downtown park."

Once the meal service location changed in 2013, Moore said they noticed a downturn in attendance for the hot lunches. To make it possible for families and the homeless to attend the meals, they decided to secure a van, which volunteers drive through the neighborhoods to give clients a ride to and back home from the meal service.

A second van and minibus have been added since the program's inception.

"Having these vehicles also allowed COL to expand its services to provide clients with transportation to doctor and dentist appointments; court hearings, especially for women seeking restraining orders for domestic abuse; English lessons; grocery shopping, especially for seniors without other transportation; and similar transportation needs," Moore said.

COL’s Outreach Program

Many of Café of Life's clients are not English speaking. Most staff and volunteers, however, speak English only. Operations manager and volunteer coordinator Yadi Munoz speaks both English and Spanish, and for years she was the only conduit for direct communications with non-English-speaking clients.

"Over the last year, due to the generosity of our donors, we have been able to hire a Spanish-speaking outreach coordinator to develop our Outreach Program," Moore explained. "Its purpose is to understand the unique needs and problems of our clients over and above food, groceries, and clothes, such as medical or dental, legal, immigration, mental health, special education needs for children, etc."

Often, Moore admits, the organization cannot fulfill these needs on its own, but can find other nonprofits that have the resources to provide the assistance needed. Accomplishments of this program include:
  • Discovered a woman that was the subject of significant domestic abuse and helped her get a restraining order.
  • Met a family with a 23-year-old son who had never seen a doctor even though he was blind and suffered severe seizures. The outreach coordinator found a doctor who was willing to see and treat the young man, pro bono.
  • In combination with the Transportation Program, has made it possible for a young mother of three to take English lessons. Now that mother has spread the word about the lessons to her non-English speaking neighbors and others are also taking advantage of these programs to learn english.
  • Identified an attorney that was able to provide pro bono legal advice for a client subject to deportation proceedings.
  • Covered the cost of critically needed medications that a senior could not afford.
  • Distributed new tents to five homeless men.
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