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Rotary Happenings: Eva’s Closet founder, executive director speaks at meeting
September 3, 2019

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Traditionally the off-season months in Lee and Collier counties allows our Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club the opportunity to invite many of the non-profit entities on and off Sanibel, who have applied for Rotary Trust grants, to present an overview of their organization and the type of programming they do to service our community. These presentations provide information and insight to us and the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Trust Board for evaluating grant application requests.

On Aug. 23, Sanibel-Captiva Rotary had as our guest speaker Jessica Goodall, founder and executive director of Eva's Closet & Foundation in Fort Myers. It provides clothing, shoes, household goods, food, school uniforms, and baby necessities, at no cost, to children and families in need in Southwest Florida. It is a multifaceted, social service agency that works to address and empower at risk populations toward maintaining a healthy and somewhat normal life at a vulnerable time in their life. This social service non-profit services on average 1,000 individuals every month who are experiencing poverty in Lee and Collier.

According to Lee County Homeless Coalition data, in a community of 713,021 people, over 91,858 people live below the poverty level, and 3,000 people live on the streets of Lee County. Eva's Closet provides services to impoverished individuals who are at the highest risk of instability, unemployment, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, criminal activity, and mental health.

The staff at Eva's comprises of one full-time person, Goodall, and two to three interns from Florida Gulf Coast University, plus volunteers. They do it all from answering the phones, greeting the clients, stocking the closets and shelves, organizing fundraisers and finding needed resources such as housing, transportation, referral and supportive assistance. Eva's Closet is similar in many ways to F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva and actually, Goodall reminds me of F.I.S.H's President Maggi Feiner. They both have the determination, drive, compassion, and work ethic to succeed at helping others with just a little help up and by inspiring others to join them in doing so.

Goodall was somewhat destined to be involved in social work and the mission of helping others in need by her great aunt Eva Engel, who ran Abby's House in Worcester, Massachusetts - a shelter for abused women and children. Goodall would help her there and discovered she herself had an affinity to help good people in bad situations. She graduated college with a degree in sociology from Framingham State College in Massachusetts and worked in the field in Massachusetts and in Collier for 11 years prior to beginning graduate school at FGCU. While still at graduate school and with her own experience in servicing the under-served population of Collier, Goodall saw the need and opportunity for a more direct and personal approach to helping people with a board range of needs and helping them get on their feet with dignity and hope. She had her dream and out of that was born Eva's Closet - named for her great aunt. A family member donated space in an industrial park in Fort Myers and Eva's Closet was opened first as a resource for clothing and children's items but with the recognition of other ways that it could help with an additional broad spectrum of needs. Eva's Closet found other community non-profits, government agencies, charitable organizations, churches, individual partners and FGCU willing to join Goodall by providing help beyond what is physically presented when you walk into Eva's Closet. The growth of Ava's Closet has been amazing and the respect for the work it does and the out-reach way in which it does it has been recognized by the community. Goodall has received the Alumni of Distinction Award from FGCU and selected as a "40 under 40" honoree by Gulfshore Life Magazine.

In 2018 Eva's Closet applied and received a $2,500 grant from the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary. This grant money was specifically designated for the purchase of diapers and wipes, socks, undergarments and sleepwear. Probably an unknown fact: Food stamps and special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits can't be used for diapers, which get grouped with pet food, cigarettes, and alcohol. Mothers who are faced with the inability to buy diapers have few good options. Eva's Closet is currently the only organization in Lee County proving diapers to at risk children at no cost.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotarians certainly now understands the work being done by Eva's Closet and Foundation here in Southwest and has a better grasp of the needs presented by our community and how non-profit organizations like Eva's Closet service those needs. Our Rotary club is just beginning a new grant cycle and hopefully will receive another grant request application from Eva's Closet and Foundation this year.

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are welcome to attend.

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