FORT MYERS, Fla. (Feb. 25, 2013) – Those in need in Bonita Springs will be getting some additional love and assistance thanks to a grant from the Bonita Springs Community Fund, a fund of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. The $20,000 grant will be presented to the Bonita Springs Assistance Office at the 2013 Love of Bonita Award celebration on Thursday, March 14.

The BSAO is a 501(c)(3) organization that has served the greater Bonita Springs area since 1979. Its goal is to help ordinary people who have been affected by an unexpected crisis. For more than 30 years, the BSAO has served as a primary social service agency in Bonita Springs. The late Father John Foley of Saint Leo’s Catholic Church, along with pastors from other churches in the area and Lions Club members, founded the nonprofit agency to provide Bonita Springs’ residents with temporary assistance for rent, mortgage, utilities, clothing or food.

“These funds couldn’t come at a better time for us,” said Maribel Slabaugh, president and executive director of the BSAO. “For years, little by little, we have been able to cover the needs of the community as they arise, but this grant will help us make the beginning of the dream come true, as we become the hub of the community and give those who have lost hope a way to regain control of their lives and get back to being productive, self-sufficient citizens.”

Through the support of the United Way Lee County and the Bonita Springs Community Fund, the BSAO will be addressing the need of additional services to improve the lives of many Bonita Springs residents.

Since the end of January, the BSAO has expanded another 1,800 square feet and is lead agency for the new United Way House, inviting other partner agencies to provide direct services to the residents of Bonita Springs and Estero. Some of the planned services will be for parents with children with disabilities, mothers who need support for a healthy pregnancy and delivery, individuals who have concerns and want to be educated about healthy lifestyles, individuals looking for career guidance or have legal, financial or business questions and concerns, and more.

“Our goal is to narrow the gap between needs and services while providing the resources needed to empower people to take charge of their situation. We have a history of serving, and we are committed to improve the lives of many Bonitians,” added Slabaugh.

The BSAO’s food program offers a Choice Pantry to residents in need with supplemental food, toiletries and basic care items, distributes fresh produce, dairy and deli products every Friday, organizes Mobile Pantries in partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank and other local agencies, coordinates emergency food distribution in cases of a natural disaster, and facilitates application process to families who wish to apply for federal temporary assistance through food stamps or SNAP programs. The agency’s financial assistance includes partial payments for rent or mortgages, past-due utility bills, payments for emergency medical or dental care (primarily for children), payments for prescription and assistance in enrolling clients in a subsidized prescription program through pharmaceutical companies or state/federal programs, gas cards and sponsorships of children to attend after-school programs within the area through certified/approved providers.

“The BSAO is a valuable resource for our community,” said Debi Braendle, a Bonita Springs business owner who chairs the Bonita Springs Community Fund. “If families and individuals do not have a helping hand at a time when they still have control of their lives, the social cost would be very steep in terms of health, safety and security issues.”

“Providing food and financial assistance improves the ability of individuals and families to care for their children and senior members and achieve goals of self-sufficiency,” said Ray Faubion, Jr., chairman of the board for the BSAO.

Faubion will be honored as the 2013 Love of Bonita Award recipient during the event’s dinner on Thursday, March 14 at 6 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort. The award, given annually, honors a Bonita Springs resident who exemplifies the goal of helping to build a stronger community.

Love of Bonita Award recipients are chosen based on the following criteria: They consistently choose to use their time, energy and/or financial resources to make a difference in the lives of people living within the Bonita Springs community; they actively encourage and perform community service to help improve the quality of life in the Bonita Springs area; and they enthusiastically promote empowerment, self-sufficiency and positive change in others, either as volunteers or as employees of community organizations.

Past Love of Bonita Award recipients include David Short, Ira Hawk, the late Pat Lord, Richard “Dick” Miller, Jacqueline “Jacke” McCurdy, Donna Roberts, David and Sarah Zimmerman, Audrey Georges, Marjorie Rubacky, Hank Hochstetler and Don Thomson.

The Bonita Springs Community Fund was established at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation in 1997 to promote philanthropy and enhance the spirit and quality of life for all citizens in the greater Bonita Springs area, now and for generations to come through stewardship of permanently endowed funds. BSCF has provided more then $1.6 million in grants and scholarships through endowed funds set up by community donors.

Tickets for the event are $100 per person.

For more information or to purchase a ticket for the 2013 Love of Bonita event, please call the Southwest Florida Community Foundation at 239-274-5900.