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Harry Chapin Food Bank recognizes Dee Baker during National Volunteer Month

Harry Chapin Food Bank recognizes Dee Baker during National Volunteer Month

Harry Chapin Food Bank, the largest hunger relief organization in Southwest Florida, was honored to recognize Dee Baker, the food bank’s very first program director, as part of the National Volunteer Month celebrations. Baker was recognized by Harry Chapin Food Bank staff and volunteers during a tour of the Fort Myers distribution center on April 22.

“I can’t think of a more fitting way to commemorate National Volunteer Month than to have Dee Baker, the legend herself, spend time with us to reflect about her time at the food bank,” said Stuart Haniff, the chief development officer at Harry Chapin Food Bank. “Our food bank has grown into the remarkable organization it is today thanks in large part to individuals like Dee Baker, who have committed their time and talents to support our mission to end hunger in Southwest Florida.”

Baker joined the Lee County Food Co-Op as its first full-time director in 1983. A Fort Myers News-Press article from July 26, 1983, notes that Baker was selected from a pool of 64 applicants.

Founded in 1983, the Lee County Food Co-Op distributed government-provided surpluses of cheese and dairy products. Baker recounts the organization quickly grew, recovering food from retailers and growers. In 1985, the cooperative changed its name to the Southwest Florida Food Bank to reflect its regional service area.

Baker played a pivotal role in the growth, establishing early relationships with national food banking organizations to supply food to the region.

“Every few months, we’d have people from other counties reach out and say, ‘we don’t have a food bank, can we come to you,’” she said. “When I retired, we were serving five counties.”

Baker’s extensive experience working with volunteers was an asset during those early years. She regularly honored volunteers, including dressing up as “Raggedy Ann” during recognition luncheons celebrating volunteers’ annual contributions.

“I made the volunteers feel important and needed,” said Baker. “This work is still my love. We need every dollar to do everything that needs to be done, but volunteers are absolutely the VIPs.”

The food bank currently has more than 5,100 active volunteers. In 2023, these dedicated individuals provided nearly 65,000 hours of service to Harry Chapin Food Bank, which equates to more than $2 million toward in-kind services.

“From manning the mobile food pantry to packing and sorting products, volunteers serve as the veritable backbone of our organization,” said Haniff. “Their commitment allows Harry Chapin Food Bank to purchase more food that can be distributed across Southwest Florida, directly supporting the food bank’s mission of ending hunger throughout the region.”

Now 95, Baker said she still considers herself a part of the Harry Chapin Food Bank family and remains committed to the food bank’s vision of a hunger-free Southwest Florida.

“Everybody that is doing service for others, God bless them, strengthen them and guide them. That’s my daily prayer for you,” said Baker.


About Harry Chapin Food Bank

Harry Chapin Food Bank, a member of Feeding America, is the largest hunger-relief organization in Southwest Florida. The food bank rescues food that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to children, families and seniors who are hungry through a series of food distribution programs that feed more than a quarter of a million people each month.

Harry Chapin Food Bank distributed $61.5 million worth of food in fiscal year 2022. Through our food distribution programs, we supplied 34.7 million pounds of food and other grocery items, including 12 million pounds of fresh produce. The food is the equivalent of 29 million meals distributed to those who are hungry.

Our membership with Feeding America enables us to amplify our food and distribution efforts and bring in food from various retail and grocery stores, national food producers and distributors, and growers locally, nationally and even internationally.

Harry Chapin Food Bank is proud to be named a Blueprint Partner by the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), the founding organization of the Naples Winter Wine Festival. Harry Chapin Food Bank is also a United Way partner agency. For more information or to make a gift, please call 239.334.7007 or visit

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