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Lesley Simon, 2, peeks around her mother, Catalina Mejia, while they wait in line for a meal at the Cafe of Life under the Banyan tree in Bonita Springs.
Lesley Simon, 2, peeks around her mother, Catalina Mejia, while they wait in line for a meal at the Cafe of Life under the Banyan tree in Bonita Springs. / Photos by Andrew West/news-press.com
Bonita Springs residents wait to receive a hot meal and donated groceries at the Cafe of Life.

How To Help

Cafe of Life serves meals from 10:30 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday by the banyan tree off the east side of Old 41 Road between Reynolds and Childers streets.

The charity’s motto is “Caring ... Sharing ... Serving.”

To cook, serve, drive or perform other tasks, call 495-9325 or e-mail cafeoflife@centurylink.net. For more information, see cafeoflife.org. Donations may be mailed to Cafe of Life, Inc. at P.O. Box 367794, Bonita Springs, FL 34136.

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Cafe of Life's volunteer board of directors wants to change any misconceptions people may have about what it does.

This summer, the nonprofit organization hired public relations counsel Laurel Smith.

"They just were interested in letting more people know what it is they do, so it's expanding awareness of the organization and its mission and also to help people more clearly understand the clients that they're helping," Smith said.

The charity serves meals on weekday mornings by the banyan tree in downtown Bonita Springs.

The board has been looking for a permanent location that is accessible to its clients, most of whom don't have cars.

"The more we can help people understand what it is they do and who it is they're serving, we may be able to head off some of that 'Not in my backyard,'" Smith said.

History

Dale and Paula Walker established the organization in 1998 in a small storefront on Old 41 Road to feed and help the poor.

It expanded from serving coffee and muffins to hot buffet-style lunches cooked at home by individuals or by restaurants and distributing donated groceries and clothing.

Cafe of Life was located in a hall at Liberty Lighthouse Church of God in downtown for a couple of years until late 2004 when the church needed room to expand.

The group then started serving meals at Victorious Life Church three days a week and Community Hall twice a week, both in downtown Bonita.

But in spring 2005, Victorious Life Church moved out of downtown.

Cafe of Life started serving meals outside next to Community Hall on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and continued to serve meals at Community Hall on Mondays and Wednesdays until Oct. 1, 2008, when its lease with the city ended.

St. Matthew's House has submitted a rezoning application to the city to open a homeless shelter in an old bank on the northeast corner of Old 41 and Bonita Beach roads.

Cafe of Life would then have the opportunity to use the building.

"We wouldn't be fighting the flies," said seven-year volunteer Margery Winsett. "People would have a little more dignity."

And they wouldn't be at the mercy of the elements.

In the summer, volunteers start serving at 10:15, about 15 minutes early, to avoid heat and rain.

Clients

More than 90 percent of Cafe of Life's clients are Hispanic. About half are men, 20 percent women and 30 percent children.

Marcos Martinez, 30, moved in with a friend in Bonita five months ago after leaving Los Angeles where he was laid off from his landscaping job.

He's been looking for day labor but hasn't had luck.

He started going to Cafe of Life recently to eat but doesn't want to rely on it.

"I'm going to try to get a job," Martinez said.

For Ronald Lamont, Cafe of Life is a life line.

"There's nothing I can do to supplement my income," said Lamont, who lives in a trailer and gets Social Security checks.

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