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"SWFL Cares Fund" to Help Struggling Local Businesses

A new donation fund has been put together to help local businesses overcome water and algae issues that have plagued Southwest Florida for the last several months.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation and the United Way have launched the “SWFL Cares Fund” to help these businesses and families that have been impacted by the disastrous, chronic water problems.

“This is a tourism community,” Richard LeBer said, CEO and president at the Harry Chapin Food Bank. “Without tourism there is no business. Without business there is no work. Without work there’s no wages. Without wages there’s no food.”

The Harry Chapin Food Bank is just one of more than 80 community agencies that the United Way has partnered with.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation; United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee; and Lee County Government, announced Monday that they were coming together to help local businesses.

The donations collected will be allocated to residents that have had decreased job hours or have been fired because of the blue-green algae infestation and the disastrous effect that the red tide has had on the shoreline and local waterways.

The SWFL Cares Fund comes at a time where federal funds have been lacking. County officials expect federal disaster assistance will soon become available for the water crisis, despite the lack of earmarked capital.

“We’re going to do a mobile pantry,” Richard said. “At least one mobile pantry every week along the coast until this crisis passes. That was not in our budget.”

It’s all made possible through extra funding.

“We have a network of agencies in our community who are already doing this work,” Cliff Smith said, who is the president of United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades, and Okeechobee. “We will provide them with additional funding.”

“This money is especially going to United Way and the United Way will then distribute this to non-profit organizations,” Sarah Owen said, who is president and CEO at SWFL Community Foundation.

“Our job in this is to work with the agencies and to decide what agencies to invest this money in,” Cliff said.

You can also dial 211 to talk with United Way to see which agency can best serve your needs.

Contributions are tax deductible. Contact SWFL Community Foundation at 239-274-5900 to donate. For more information about donations click here . One hundred percent of donations go to the community.

Harry Chapin Food Bank’s hours are every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon. It is located at 1510 Estero Boulevard, in Fort Myers Beach.

Additional reporting by Brittany Muller