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Meet Community Cooperative’s Stefanie Ink-Edwards

Association of Fundraising Professionals shines light on local philanthropists, volunteers

by Kathy Grey

She really doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. Ever.

But Stefanie Ink-Edwards, CEO of Community Cooperative, agreed to being honored at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ National Philanthropy Day event on Tuesday, Nov. 14. That’s because her staff, who make her leadership possible, nominated her.

Ink-Edwards joined the Community Cooperative 10 years ago as its director of development. She then took on marketing for the growing organization, became its COO and then its CEO.

Community Cooperative is far more than a soup kitchen. The Southwest Florida organization, headquartered in Fort Myers, strives to alleviate hunger and homelessness throughout Southwest Florida.

“I’m a pretty humble person, and I don’t toot my own horn,” Ink-Edwards says. She does acknowledge that “Post-Ian, we did some incredible things, and I executed a lot of it. We may not be first responders, but we are definitely second responders.”

During the worst of the storm, and without electricity, Ink-Edwards knew she had to spring into action right then and there. She was able to text a gifted social media friend in Texas to begin the process of building and launching “Lee County Strong,” Community Cooperative’s emergency relief fund.


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“No matter what anyone says, social media still has its positives,” she declares. “We put Lee County Strong out to the world, asking for support. Social media was our main line of communication.”

The Lee County Strong initiative raised nearly $1.5 million. Money came in from across the state, across the nation and across oceans.

New Jersey resident Billy Joel and his wife, Alexis, contributed $250,000 from the Joel Foundation. The couple winters in Florida and have first-hand disaster experience from riding out Superstorm Sandy.

Every cent raised for Lee County Strong was directed to people suffering; people who lost everything; people with urgent needs.

“We did what we do best: bringing water, hot meals, foodstuffs, hardware and other supplies to the most devastated areas,” Ink-Edwards says. “And, as Community Cooperative’s leader, I did what I do best: raising funds that would support this mission.”

Two days after the storm, that mission included feeding 10,000 Southwest Floridians — in one day. Money raised filled bellies, gas tanks and gaps in local lives, big and small.

A cancer patient’s wigs were ruined in the storm, and she was given money to buy a new one so she could confidently return to work. Those who qualified received rent and mortgage assistance for a month or two. Edison Sailing School’s safety boat was repaired so the school was able to run its camps. Transportation was arranged for people who lost their only way to get around. Power tools were acquired for a Pine Island handyman whose tools were destroyed. That was so he could work to pay his mortgage and because he has the skills needed to help others repair and rebuild.  

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“It was the right thing to do,” Ink-Edwards says, crediting the United Way and other partners who came together for a community crying for help. “We made lemonade out of lemons. We provide connections to resources that can help people rebuild, to get their lives back on track.”

Ian made a direct hit on Tuesday, Sept 29. Community Cooperative’s Meals on Wheels program serving Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties resumed operation that Friday. Roads were blocked or damaged. Bridges were out. Traffic lights on major roadways had no power. And despite all this, volunteers were more than eager to resume meal delivery and home checks for the most vulnerable in our community.

“This work takes a lot out of a leader,” Ink-Edwards says. “But we have incredible staff members, volunteers and support from the community. I wouldn’t be able do what I do without the support of all of these people.”

Taking It Personally

At age 40, Ink-Edwards jokes that she’s 962 in “hurricane years.”

The fourth-generation Fort Myers Ink family lost “Ink Cottage,” their Fort Myers Beach family home. But like many families who’ve settled in for decades, they will rebuild.

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“We’ve been in the community for a long time,” says Ink-Edwards, the mother of two children, ages 18 and 12. Her McGregor corridor home in Fort Myers was spared heavy damage, but many of her neighbors were much less fortunate.

With the exception of hurricanes, Ink-Edwards is very much at home in the great outdoors. Being outside helps her destress and regulate, especially when she engages in her favorite Florida sport: tarpon fishing.

“It’s one of my favorite things to do,” the Florida native says. “I love Southwest Florida. And I love the work we do because what we do is making it a better place for everyone.”

Meet Community Cooperative’s Stefanie Ink-Edwards


Year-End Giving

Supporting community nonprofits benefits every one of us

by Kathy Grey


The holiday season inspires generosity and goodwill. With that comes an impressive spike in end-of-year charitable gifts. What is it about this time of year that philanthropic contributions become essential for nonprofits and the donors who support them?


There are several related factors, explains Lindsey Touchette, Collier Community Foundation’s vice president of community engagement.

Donor Benefits

Launched in 2012, Giving Tuesday begins each year five days after Thanksgiving. It has grown to be a significant movement for donors to contribute to their chosen nonprofit(s).

Giving Tuesday also serves as a donor’s holiday reminder to maximize tax deductions for the year.

Although many contributions before midnight Dec. 31 apply to the year’s tax deductions, Touchette encourages donors to confirm annual giving deadlines with each nonprofit organization they support.

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For example, a nonprofit child care organization sees a decrease in contributions. Because they must retain a staff-to-student ratio, fewer spots are available for child care. Potentially, then, a parent must step out of a workplace in which they were already struggling, and the community realizes a loss in its workforce. Now consider that this could mean one less essential worker (teacher, EMT, officer, firefighter or nurse) because they must care for their own children at home. This is just one ripple that affects the entire community. This is why supporting the fundamental needs of nonprofits is so important.

Giving Where You’re Living

No-income-tax Florida has given rise to an influx of residents from places like New York and California. People are moving from such places with a surplus of money to still-more-affordable paradise, where state taxes don’t exist and donors can play an active role in choosing charities they care about instead of giving it to the government to distribute as they see fit.

The CCF maintains a comprehensive nonprofit directory, an important tool for Florida “newbies” and long-term residents alike. The directory provides a profile of each organization and a number of search options to help residents make informed decisions as they consider where to direct their year-end gifts.  

It’s important for workers to know if their places of work offer an employer match. For example, a local news anchor recently donated $100 a day for 30 days for nonprofits he cares about. Because these gifts were matched by his employer, his $3,000 donation amounted to $6,000.

Touchette says it’s important to know if your employer provides a dollar-for-dollar match to your charitable donations and that the match is processed before the end of the year. "You don't want to leave dollars on the table," she says, as this employee perk maximizes support for our nonprofits.

Regardless, some employees earmark holiday bonus income to causes they care about in the spirit of giving — and to benefit taxes.

Clearly, this season of gratitude and giving offers endless opportunities to invest in our community today for the betterment of tomorrow.

Lindsey Touchette

The Collier Community Foundation (CCF) supports the nonprofits in our community — from great and powerful to small and mighty — and encourages donors to help keep them “in business” when considering their year-end gifts.

CCF recently commissioned the Florida Philanthropic Network to complete a study of our local nonprofits and the impact they have on our community. The research reports 232 area nonprofits must raise a cumulative $402 million just to stay operational. In addition, costs are increasing as Southwest Florida becomes a less affordable place to live, work and stay in business. This is affecting our nonprofits, as well.

“People get into the holiday spirit, excited about giving gifts to family and friends. Then they shift to thinking about nonprofits and their missions,” Touchette says. “You also start to look at your tax situation for the year, or perhaps your accountant suggests you make donations to lower your taxable income."

Year-End Giving


The Power of Education Gala

Helping students gain access to educational and professional development resources and skills

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This memorable evening will help 1,300+ Foundation students gain access to the educational and professional development resources and skills essential for career success and financial independence.

Tickets and sponsorships are still available.

The Power of Education Gala

Helping students access educational and professional development resources and skills

When: Friday, Jan. 19 

Where: The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, 2600 Tiburon Dr., Naples, FL 34109

More Info:

Join us at The Immokalee Foundation’s 2024 Charity Classic — The Power of Education Gala, on Jan. 19 at The Ritz-Carlton Naples-Tiburón. We’re celebrating 32 years of providing education, empowerment and hope for Immokalee’s children.

The Power of Education Gala



Dress comfortably and try this tradition on for size

by Kathy Grey

Two decades ago, Practice Thanksgiving became a new tradition for the Pierce family, who had recently moved from Sanibel Island to a large Fort Myers historic home between McGregor Boulevard and the Caloosahatchee River.

“That’s when Kevin and I inherited his family’s 40-year tradition of hosting about 30 loved ones at Thanksgiving,” Cindy Pierce explains. “We have a big deck out back that accommodates tables and chairs for a few dozen people.”

Cindy and Kevin were delighted to accept the family tradition, even though neither had ever actually roasted a turkey.

But they had time to practice. Friends heard about the turkey trial and mentioned they had side-dish recipes they would also like to practice making prior to Thanksgiving.

And so, 20 friends gathered three weeks before the fourth Thursday of November 2003. The Pierces provided the “practice turkeys,” and the others provided the “practice sides” in potluck fashion, and what a swell party it was!


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Putting it Together

Practice Thanksgiving (or PTG, as devotees call it) became a brand-new annual tradition at the Pierces’ place, featuring anywhere from 30-62 invited guests and their side dishes. Only two PTGs were skipped: 2017 because of Hurricane Irma property damage and 2020 because of COVID-19.

“Kevin has always roasted at least two turkeys and many times four birds. We have used the ovens at neighbors’ houses on both sides,” Cindy muses, noting that spent turkey carcasses are the key ingredients for weeks of delicious soups.

It takes two days to prepare for Practice Thanksgiving. Cindy’s impressive collection of mismatched vintage china — plus her and her mother’s wedding china — is just one of the warm and welcoming touches for her guests. (One year, someone convinced her to use Chinette paper plates. That was the one and only year.)

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Practice Thanksgiving motivates me to do my once-a-year silver polishing” of cutlery and serving pieces. “For this, I channel my mother, and I always find it relaxing and rewarding.”

Each 6-foot folding table on the deck is covered with “the same eight matching tablecloths from Old Time Pottery, and my collection of various-patterned cotton/linen napkins has served us well all these years. Suffice it to say, I am no longer in acquisition mode for anything table-related!”


Delicious Dishes

Asked her favorite sides to present, she recalls her Crock Pot Corn Casserole and her Brown Butter Roasted Carrots and Parsnips from several years ago.

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As the food and guests come rolling in.

Post event dishwashing is followed by sorting and putting everything away.

Such a lovely night for outdoor dining

Milling about the appetizer table, which later became the dessert table. Hostess Cindy is

Milling about the appetizer table, which later became the dessert table. Hostess Cindy is front left.

“This year, my Smoky Jalapeño Lime Cranberry Sauce was a hit. Several people asked for the recipe,” she says. (See it below.)


One guest dubbed her creation as a Rich, Creamy, Calorie-Laden Broccoli Casserole. A savory tomato bread pudding one year was excellent, as was a sweet onion dip with chunks of really great bread.

“There is never a lack of carbs at Practice Thanksgiving,” Cindy says.

Cleanup takes place over the course of several days.

“Pretty much everything gets washed and dried that night, thanks to a few helpful friends. But putting things away can take days.”

Today, the Pierces’ kitchen table remains covered with stacks of plates. The dining room table is laden with laundered and folded linens and baskets of silverware, all to be returned to their appropriate storage spaces … that is, until the next Thanksgiving celebration.

Smoky Jalapeño Lime Cranberry Sauce with Mezcal

2 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries

2 cups sugar

2/3 cup water

2-3 limes, zested and juiced

2 jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons mezcal (for the smoky flavor)


Combine cranberries, sugar, water, lime juice, lime zest, jalapeños and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.


Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries start to pop, about 5 minutes.


Kale and Butternut Squash Gratin


1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and leaves chopped

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 shallot, finely chopped

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup heavy cream

2 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch half-moons

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 375°F.


In a large sauté pan over medium heat, combine the kale and 1/4 cup water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is wilted, about 4 minutes.

Drain the kale, transfer to a bowl and set aside.


In the same pan over medium heat, melt the butter.


Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 1-2 minutes.

Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.

Press the berries against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon and continue to cook until the berries have broken down and the sauce thickens to a jam-like consistency. about 5 minutes more.


Remove the pan from the heat, stir in mezcal and let it cool for 30 minutes.

Adjust the consistency with water as needed.

Serve immediately or place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Slowly stir in the stock and cream and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, 1-2 minutes.


Add the Gruyère and 1 tablespoon of the sage and stir until the cheese has melted, about 1 minute.

Season with salt and pepper.


In a 9-by-13-inch gratin dish, layer half each of the kale, squash and sauce.


Repeat with the remaining kale, squash and sauce.


Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until the squash is fork-tender, about 40 minutes.


Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the panko, Parmesan and the remaining tablespoon of sage.


Uncover the pan and sprinkle the gratin evenly with the panko mixture.


Bake until the top is golden brown and the gratin is bubbling at the edges, 10-15 minutes more.


Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.


Serves 6 to 8.



Today, Tomorrow and Forever

Creating and treasuring holiday traditions

by Kimberly Blaker

Whatever the celebration, holiday traditions are a fun way for families to bond and create fond memories. The traditions you choose are limited only by your imagination and the way you and your family carry them out. Here are a few fun traditions to consider.

Customs for Gatherings

Storytelling. Depending on the holiday, choose a theme such as “my most memorable holiday” or “the best thing that happened this year,” and ask each person to share a memory. Record the storytelling on video or audio, then revisit the observations in future years as part of your memory-sharing tradition.

Poetry. Hold a holiday poetry reading. Ask each person to bring copies of their favorite seasonal or holiday poem to pass out and read aloud at your gathering.

White elephant. Rather than gifts for all, hold a “white elephant” (also known as Cutthroat Christmas, Yankee Swap, The Grinch Game, and other colorful names).

Each guest brings a wrapped gift that anyone in the group can appreciate. Each person draws a numbered slip and takes a turn choosing either a wrapped gift or taking an unwrapped gift from another participant. A player whose gift is taken chooses another wrapped gift or takes a gift from someone else.

For Twosomes or the Whole Brood

Cozy escape. Escape the holiday hustle and bustle, and enjoy a holiday retreat. Try a cozy cabin in the woods or another scenic setting. Then enjoy your togetherness near a roasting fire, sharing family photos, enjoying restful music and taking a walk together.

Holiday countdown. There are many ways to savor the upcoming holiday you celebrate. Whether it’s a traditional advent calendar or a “days until Hanukkah” sign, these household reminders heighten the joy of anticipation.

Romantic evening. Plan an evening for two and reserve a table near a fireplace or a different romantic setting. When you return home, light some candles, play soft music and exchange a special gift with each other.

International customs. Pick up a book on holiday customs around the world. Each year, choose a different culture for your theme. Then decorate and try new traditions accordingly.

Traditions for All

Cooking and/or baking holiday foods can be a way to connect with family in a new way. This is especially important for a blended family or if you’ve recently welcomed a family member whose traditions are new to you.


Stockings for adults. Fill stockings for your partner, parents or grandparents to discover. Stuff them with treats, health and beauty products, postage stamps, lottery tickets and other inexpensive or usable items.


Help a family in Need. These opportunities abound through civic organizations, synagogues, churches and other groups. It’s easy to find the program that’s right for you and for the sponsoring organization.

A special ornament. Buy a new tree ornament each year that signifies something important, such as baby’s first Christmas or a new pet. If it’s your first season in a new home, find an ornament that represents it.

Homemade wrapping paper. Cut holiday shapes out of sponges, dip them in holiday-colored paint and stamp the shapes onto a roll of craft paper. Use glitter markers to add a festive touch.


* Discontinue holiday traditions that have lost their appeal, letting family members and friends know your intent. If necessary, discuss a compromise.

* Don’t overdo it or strive for perfection.

* Divide the responsibilities so the host(s) can also enjoy participating in the seasonal tradition.

By keeping these tips in mind and being flexible, you and your family can enjoy holiday traditions for years to come.

Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera; and more at

Today, Tomorrow and Forever
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