After overseeing the Cape Coral Caring Center for more than a decade, resident Fred Cull retired Friday from his role as executive director.
Cull first took over the helm of the non-profit organization in 2000. He had been retired for about 11 years after stepping down as publisher of the Cape Coral Daily Breeze. He explained that the first retirement did not quite take.
"I fooled around and fooled around, and finally wound up here," Cull said, adding that he had learned that the center was looking to fill the position. "I was attracted to the ability to help other people who were in distress."
The organization employs three staffers and has 40 volunteers. Formed in 1990, it was created by the Cape Coral Ministerial Association to serve as a central base for those in need in the community, according to its Web site.
In the first year, the center helped 503 families - roughly 1,500 people. Last year, it assisted 4,032 families, or more than 12,000 individuals.
"It's a constant fight to keep our shelves full of food," Cull said, adding that the center has been working to keep up with the increasing demand for aid.
"As the economy faltered, our doors were swung wide open," he said.
The generosity of the public has enabled them to carry out their mission.
"The people of Cape Coral are very generous, and we've never really had a problem providing the wherewithal to those in need," Cull said, adding that it is a community effort. "Those that have take care of those that haven't."
Most of the donations come from local churches, clubs and organizations. About 30 percent of what the center distributes is purchased through the Harry Chapin Food Bank, with area grocery stores used to fill in any gaps.
The organization gets grants from the Housing and Urban Development Agency through the city government and receives funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through United Way, according to Cull.
Depending on the size of the family in need, the center can provide one or more bags of groceries, up to three times per year. It can make exceptions in "extreme circumstances" as to the number of times families get food.
Help is also available for those in danger of having their utilities turned off. The center can assist with other bills, but it is not a routine occurrence.
"We will address rents on a minimal basis," Cull said. "Because they're normally so high it would bankrupt us - and mortgages, of course."
Parents who cannot afford doctor-prescribed medicine for their children also can look to the organization, which arranges payment with the pharmacist.
"We interview everyone and make a decision of what we can do," he said.
Asked about the positives of the job, Cull cited serving those in need.
"It's very very rewarding helping people. I think we all need that in our lives," he said. "The downs are generating enough food and cash (donations)."
Cull admitted that his decision to retire was based somewhat on his age.
"There's a time to hold them and a time to fold them, and now's the time to fold them," he said.
Cull added that his wife is originally from England, and that they would like to travel more. Anne Cull is the curator for the Cape Coral Historical Museum.
"It's been a privilege to serve here in Cape Coral," he said.
The president of the Cape Coral Caring Center's board of directors will serve as interim executive director until someone is selected to fill the position.
The Cape Coral Caring Center is at 4645 S.E. 15th Ave.
For information on the organization or for details on how to receive assistance, call (239) 945-1927 or visit: www.capecoralcaringcenter.org.