Lee County has been dealing with a lot of water quality issues this year. Between the red tide and blue-green algae , these environmental disasters have caused significant decreases in profits for many in the business community.
“Visitors hear what’s going on and they may not come to visit Lee County,” Nancy MacPhee said, who is with the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau.
The Island Hopper Festival’s purpose is to drive business to Lee County in one of the slowest months.
“September is the worst month,” Steve Hollister said, owner of the Barrel Room in downtown Fort Myers , “It’s the absolute perfect time to do Island Hoppers.”
This festival helps bring business to local restaurants, bars, hotels, and artists – but that’s not all. This year, they are helping raise money for the SWFL Cares Fund .
“The Community Foundation has partnered with United Way to take donations that are donated to SWFL Cares and make them available to employees that may have been laid off," MacPhee said, "or perhaps their wages have somehow been affected by the situation we’ve been experiencing this summer."
In Lee County, tourism employs one out of five people. If visitors stop coming, there are consquenes. For instance, employees' hours may be cut or they could even be laid off. The money from SWFL Cares Fund goes to non-profits that can directly help those individuals.
Hollister said this festival doubles his business and helps them to kick off the season.
“When we get to island hoppers, we know we’re turning the corner gonna start to get busy again, so all the employees look forward to it," Hollister said. "You know more money in their pocket for more hours, more guest coming in the door dining and drinking here."
Cliff Smith, the president of Lee County United Way, guaranteed that 100 percent of the money is staying right here in Lee County.
The SWFL Cares Fund has already made two donations. One to the Harry Chapman Foodbank that was used to bring meals on wheels to Fort Myers Beach . The other donation was to a non-profit in Sanibel called F.I.S.H . They’re a human service organization that helps put on programs, workshops, social services and more for the community on Sanibel Island.
Anyone struggling can call UnitedWay at 2-1-1 to be put in touch with organizations that can help them.