Community Cooperative is again offering monthly mobile food pantries for veterans at the Lee County Veterans Affairs (VA) Clinic in Cape Coral.
At the drive-thru pantries, veterans and their families will receive a week’s worth of shelf-stable food, meat and fresh produce.
Community Cooperative offered its first veterans-only food pantry at the VA Clinic in Cape Coral in spring 2017.
The VA honored Community Cooperative with the inaugural Bay Pines Director’s Club award in September for the food assistance program at the Lee County VA Clinic. The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System runs nine facilities serving more than 108,000 veterans in 10 counties in Central Southwest Florida and is the fourth-busiest VA Healthcare system in the country.
He’s survived the clutches of an alligator’s jaw, and now he’s reporting for duty. I’m talking of course about Gunner, now Detective Gunner as he was recently deputized by Sheriff Carmine Marceno.
Gunner made national headlines after a Florida Wildlife Federation video was released of his father, Rick Wilbanks, rescuing the five-week-old puppy from the grip of an alligator. The now-famous video showed Rick jumping into the lake and prying the gator’s jaws open to rescue his puppy, all while never dropping his cigar.
Wilbanks told CapeStyle Magazine that he had just gotten the puppy from the breeder and had no idea the incident was recorded. But the daring rescue was recorded, and Rick and Gunner won the hearts of Americans everywhere.
One of those individuals was Sheriff Carmine Marceno, who believed that Gunner and his story could help educate people about water safety. In a ceremony last week, Gunner raised his right paw and swore an oath to the Constitution, making him the newest Deputy Dog as a detective and “safety officer” due to his personal experience. Detective Gunner is now authorized to give official tips about safety and reports directly to Lt. Bosco.
Rick, who developed a close relationship with Sheriff Marceno, is excited that Gunner can serve his community.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Rick told CapeStyle Magazine. “Taking something that could have been a tragedy and turning it into something good. I’m happy.”
Starting in January, Detective Gunner will be going to schools to talk about water safety, visit children and the elderly in hospitals and assisted living facilities, eventually even educating teenagers about driver safety.
“It [Gunner’s story] will start a conversation with people,” said Amy Dell Aquila, the Sheriff’s Community Liaison. “Conversations about how this happened, how to avoid this.”
Saturday was Detective Gunner’s first official day on the job. Stationed at the Community Resource Center at the new Brotherhood of Heroes Museum & Resource Center, Gunner was available for photos with individuals coming in for a Christmas food giveaway.
Also attending the event were Cape Coral’s newest State Representative, Mike Giallombardo, and recently elected City Councilman Tom Hayden, both of whom helped distributed food to local families.
The Deputy Dogs program is a recent program which engages the community using superhero-like “deputy dogs”, spreading specific messages about safety to Lee County residents and guests. The first deputy dog was Deputy Chance, Sheriff Marceno’s own rescue dog, who is now Lee County’s Goodwill Ambassador.
Deputy Chance has since been joined by a team of capable deputies, including Lt. Bosco, Kylo, Bowden, and Dasher. Some deputy dogs have specific skills. For example, GiGi is the deputy’s animal abuse analyst, Mad Dog is an undercover operative, and the bloodhounds Maggie and Mercy search for missing children.
Cape Coral has their own patron deputy dog as well, named Prince. Prince, or “The Prince of Cape Coral” is a debonair poodle who is the team’s public relations officer. Who’s a good boy, representing his hometown? Prince is!
In fact, all these deputy dogs are good boys and girls, serving their communities. Detective Gunner is in good company.
The “Holiday Heroes” Food Drive, benefitting the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida, will be held on November 19th between the hours of 11:00 am – 4:00 pm at the Walmart Neighborhood Market stores at 3920 Skyline Boulevard and 505 SW Pine Island Road. The Cape Coral Police Department will be accepting food and monetary donations to help local families in need this holiday season.
Last year our community donated 1,526 pounds of food as well as $1,668 to the Harry Chapin Food Bank. Due to COVID-19 there are many families in our community that are in need. We are hoping to surpass last year’s donations to help these families.
If you are interested in donating, please go to one of the Walmart Neighborhood Market locations. This year, food donations and monetary donations will be accepted to include credit card donations.
Walking through the new military museum in Cape Coral means taking a trip back in time.
On Tuesday, the Brotherhood of Heroes Military Museum and Resource Center officially opened its to serve veterans. From the Revolutionary War on, each exhibit tells a story, some with a Southwest Florida connection.
The museum in the “Purple Heart City” will not only house military treasures but also welcomes veterans’ groups like The Purple Heart and the Disabled American Veterans.
The museum, 4522 Del Prado Blvd. S., is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, and closed Sundays and Mondays.
Admission is $4 and free for military personnel and first responders.
A father’s tribute to his son. Pictures and artifacts of past wars that shook and bonded a nation. Reminders of a revolution and how our country got its start. All can be found and remembered at the new Brotherhood of Heroes Resource Center and Museum on Del Prado Boulevard in Cape Coral.
The museum was the idea of philanthropist Dr. Carol Rae Culliton, founder of the Gunterberg Charitable Foundation, which generously gives millions of dollars to non-profits each year.
After the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library closed recently, Culliton wanted a place where the memories of past wars and heroes could be remembered and preserved. “I believed the community deserved a place like this,” she said, noting the new museum has no connection to the closed museum.
She found an empty building at 4522 Del Prado that used to be the home of the Carpet Man. The building was the perfect place to display artifacts of this country’s military history. It also gave her enough room to provide meeting space for veterans’ groups of all military branches that were displaced by the other museum’s closing.
She also wanted a place where veterans and others could come to seek mental health counseling, find possible work or housing opportunities, learn CPR, and connect with other resources available in Southwest Florida. This building provides those resources. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office also will have a resource center inside where deputies and staff can connect with residents.
“People have so many different needs here and that was primary for me,” Culliton said. “We wanted to be the place where you could get the help you need, and if we couldn’t provide the specific help, we can send you to the places where you can get the help.
“I am proud of what we are doing. This is definitely a labor of love.”
The museum’s soft opening is set for Nov. 6. A special ribbon cutting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Nov. 10 with the opening of the sheriff’s resource center, a color guard ceremony, the singing of the National Anthem and patriotic music. The celebration continues Nov. 11 (Veteran’s Day) from 1:30-4:30 p.m. with an open-to-the-public picnic, featuring 200 hamburgers and 500 hotdogs, refreshments and entertainment. Museum tours will be available to the public. Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman will present a county proclamation, as will the city of Cape Coral.
The museum’s regular hours will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to until 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
The museum is a physical chronicle of transformative moments in our nation’s history. It features exhibits from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, World War I and II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Gulf wars and wars in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is a tribute to women who have served in the military, as well as a Holocaust memorial. If you want to go way back, there is even a rare dinosaur egg on display.
There is a musket from the battle at Gettysburg, artillery guns, other weapons and ammunition of all types and sizes from each war, a rare collection of military uniforms, aviation devices and an original jeep and bicycle from World War II.
There is World War I aviator’s uniform, paying tribute Capt. Richard Page, the namesake of Page Field. The Missing Man’s table, honoring military members who died, were imprisoned and missing, is on display in the main lobby, with caps from each of the five branches, plus other symbolic reminders.
Three of the most prominent exhibits feature several Purple Heart medals and the names of the recipients, an area set aside to honor the battle at Iwo Jima and tribute to a Cape Coral hero.
The Purple Heart display in the main lobby is especially significant for Culliton. Her husband’s father was a Purple Heart recipient, and their son, Adam, was especially close to his grandfather.
The Iwo Jima display honors the six-day battle that saw U.S. Marines and the Navy capture the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army and the famous raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi.
One of the most stirring displays is for former Cape Coral resident Daniel Eggers, a U.S. Army Capt. and Green Beret killed during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004 in Afghanistan.
The display was moved from the former museum and was created by Daniel’s father, Bill, and his family. There are many pictures and a portrait of Daniel, as well as video showing amazing scenes of the soldier during his time overseas, having meals and many conversations with the Afghan people and his military unit.
Culliton conceived the name Brotherhood of Heroes by combining the heroic accomplishments of first responders and the military. “The police call themselves brothers, as does the military. They are heroes. It was the natural name,” she said.
Culliton’s passion for giving back started at a young age. She was only 13 when her mother died and 18 when her father passed. She had no other siblings. They left her plenty of money. “But I was sad. I had money but no family,” she said. “My parents were very philanthropic and helped build churches in Chicago.”
She was educated by nuns in a private girl’s school in Chicago from first grade through high school. They were her mentors. They taught the young girls to be strong not only in their faith, but also in how they lived. They taught them to be leaders, to strive to achieve and make a difference. “(The nuns) were good and kind and they always believed in you. I grew up believing I could change the world,” Culliton said.
The memories of strong parents and the words and teachings of the nuns set the pathway for Culliton, who knew giving back to community was her life’s dedication. She founded the Gunterberg Charitable Foundation 13 years ago and now gives to 250 charities around the world focused on reaching those in need through providing food, education and various other resources.
Culliton’s life was not about leaving a legacy. She wanted to give but didn’t need to be recognized for it. Now that she has a young grandchild, Charles, that view of life has changed.
“I always want him to know that his grandmom was a good person and wanted to help people,” she said.
She is changing her small part of the world and the museum is another example of her commitment to the community.
If you have items that you would like to donate to the Brotherhood of Heroes, please contact the museum at 239-360-8913.
Community Cooperative was presented the inaugural Bay Pines Director’s Cup for service to Southwest Florida’s veterans through bimonthly mobile food pantries held at Lee County Veterans Affairs (VA) Clinic in Cape Coral. Until the pantries were stopped in March due to the pandemic, Community Cooperative served more than 500 veterans a month since 2017.
“We’re grateful we’re able to help area veterans who served our country from World War II to Afghanistan and everything in between,” said Tracey Galloway, chief executive officer of Community Cooperative.
“Nationwide, 25% of active military families are getting help from food pantries, and hunger among the 12 million veterans of the age of 60 is sadly skyrocketing. During the pandemic we have helped veterans with our drive-through community food pantries, but we look forward to reinstating the veterans-only food pantries again when the VA locally is ready for us.”
At the pantries, veterans received a week’s worth of shelf stable food, meat and fresh produce. Community Cooperative started with one pantry a month, but after seeing the need went to twice-a-month distributions for veterans and their families at the Lee County Veterans Affairs Clinic in Cape Coral. The pantries were sponsored in part by the Bonita Bay Veterans Club.
The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, with headquarters in Bay Pines near St. Petersburg, runs nine facilities serving more than 108,000 veterans in 10 counties in central Southwest Florida. In patients treated or served, the system is the fourth busiest VA Healthcare system in the country.