The Bridge Fund Celebrates $1 Million in Giving to Neighbors in Need
By DK Christi
Miracles are happening every day in Estero and surrounding communities. They may seem small — a rent payment made, a pair of eyeglasses — but these acts of kindness are truly miracles for some local families.
“Neighbors helping neighbors” is the idea behind The Bridge Fund, the philanthropic outreach of Pelican Landing and The Colony. The fund recently reached a milestone: $1 million of assistance has been distributed since the first award was granted seven years ago.
It all began with a simple conversation between two Pelican Landing neighbors discussing a documentary on homelessness. They decided to do a little research regarding needs in their own community. As a result, more than 1,500 local individuals and families have received assistance. The Bridge Fund works in collaboration with nearly 40 partner agencies to identify Bonita Springs and Estero area “neighbors” with immediate and acute needs.
“The Bridge Fund is unique,” says Jeff Clark, Salvation Army Mission Station Administrator for Bonita Springs. “Every assistance organization has criteria and budgets that are limiting. The Bridge Fund fills gaps. They don’t case manage; they fund partner agency requests for specific client needs. Filling financial gaps is their expertise.”
As an example, Clark noted, a local child needed a critical heart surgery, but the family did not have insurance. The life-saving surgery was paid for through a collaboration of agencies with a major assist from The Bridge Fund.
“This unique funding partner is light on its feet,” adds Clark. “The speed with which they fund a critical need is remarkable. I’ve met with their board member in the evening to receive a check for an emergency.”
Clark says he also appreciates the problem-solving ideas and potential new solutions brought to the table by board members of The Bridge Fund.
Jessica Goodall, owner of Eva’s Closet, says partnership with The Bridge Fund is a key factor in funding diverse needs. Eva’s Closet aims to provide whatever is needed — food, clothes, household items, baby supplies, utility payments — for people living below the poverty line and experiencing risk factors.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Goodall says.
The Bridge Fund helps her meet in-depth needs such as the housing payment for a family of six living at Covered Wagon in Estero. The father had an injury preventing him from going to work, and the mother just gave birth. The Bridge Fund assistance kept the family sheltered.
For these and numerous other “miracles” provided by The Bridge Fund, the organization was recently recognized by Estero’s Village Council. Last month, the council commended The Bridge Fund for ably carrying out its mission “to provide critical support to some of the neediest residents of Estero.”
The Bridge Fund is known for its quick action when immediate assistance is needed.
“Our board members divide up the responsibility of responding to requests from our partners, and 99 percent are funded,” explains President Mike Beebe. “The record time is 12 minutes, but 24 hours is normal.”
For those receiving help from the all-volunteer-run charitable organization, miracles have included mortgage payments to hang onto a home in the face of medical emergencies and money to buy therapeutic toys and games for a young child with autism. When a local school’s clinic ran out of funds, The Bridge Fund stepped in to purchase glucose meter testing strips for an elementary pupil with diabetes. One grateful recipient wrote a thank you note to The Bridge Fund for “saving my life.”
“We did not set specific criteria,” says Beebe. Sometimes the miracle is an insurance policy, a utility bill, shelter for a night, protection from sex trafficking or a license to work. These are only a few of the small miracles The Bridge Fund accomplishes by filling gaps. The Bridge Fund removes the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back before a dire result occurs. The average financial award is $800.
“My research indicates that gaps in philanthropy are matters of timing,” says Beebe. “Difficult for most organizations, our use of electronic communication and volunteers help with quick solutions.”
Thank you letters abound from grateful recipients like one young mother who wrote: “Thank you for helping me get my license. It means a lot to me and my family, and I can go back to work now.”
A local social worker expressed this heartfelt gratitude to The Bridge Fund board: “Because of your help, my client and her child were able to remain in their rental apartment instead of eviction this morning. Today is her child’s third birthday – thank you for changing the face of his today and his tomorrows!”
The Bridge Fund complements the missions of its partners who are embedded in the local community and understand the needs of those they serve. To date, more than 500 individuals and organizations have provided donations. Because it is a volunteer-run organization, expenses are kept very low; 98 percent of contributions directly benefit those in need, reports Beebe.
“The Bridge Fund is not only life changing for recipients of the funding; all of our donors and members are personally touched by the work — in many respects, as much as our partners and clients,” says Beebe of the joy of giving. “It catches you, and you don’t want to let go. The volunteers just want to do this because it is so meaningful to their lives.”