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Thursday, Dec 03, 2020

Miles-long row of cars waits near Florida food bank as demand surges

Dramatic images from South Florida on Monday show a long line of cars backed up bumper to bumper on a roadway while motorists wait hours to get food from a food bank. A drone captured aerial shots of vehicles waiting in line outside a food bank in Sunrise, Florida.

A drone captured aerial shots of vehicles waiting in line in Sunrise, Florida, just northwest of Fort Lauderdale, on Monday.

The motorists were waiting to receive food from Feeding South Florida, a food bank that relies on donations to feed the poor.

Feeding South Florida has seen a 600 per cent increase in the number of people asking for food as millions have been laid off due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Floridians lined up to receive produce ranging from milk, chicken, apples, tomatoes, cantaloupes, and eggs.

According to the Miami Herald, food banks like Feeding South Florida and others have a glut of fresh produce to give away.

That’s because the coronavirus outbreak has forced governments to shut down the hospitality industry, which includes restaurants, hotels, airlines, cruise ships, school cafeterias, and other businesses that serve food to customers.

That means farmers who rely on these businesses to buy their crops have an excess of perishable food and nothing to do with it.

Food that isn’t donated to food banks is simply thrown away or turned into mulch as there is no set mechanism to efficiently redistribute the excess produce to those in need.

‘The volume is at a level we’ve never seen before,’ said Stephen Shelley, president and CEO of Farm Share.

‘It is overwhelming the system.’

Farm Share distributes food every day through partnerships with food pantries, churches, school, and other nonprofits.

The organization has dozens of drop sites throughout Florida. It is running at maximum capacity using every one of its 25 refrigerated trucks and six warehouses to get food to those who need it.

Feeding South Florida said it welcomes the excess donations. It is operating at a pace to deliver 2.5 million meals a week to hungry Floridians.

‘We absolutely can handle it,’ said Sari Vatske, executive vice president of Feeding South Florida.

‘We can’t get it in and out fast enough.’

Vatske said that while the number of people asking for food has increased six-fold, the number of staff has been cut by three-fourths as people are adhering to stay-at-home orders.

‘The math is not on our side,’ Vatske said.

More than 520,000 Floridians have applied for unemployment since March 15, compared to 326,000 in all of last year.

State statistics show that as of Monday, almost 13,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease and 235 have died since the outbreak began being tracked a month ago.

About 1,600 people are hospitalized in the state.

More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits at the end of last month - doubling a record high set just one week earlier - a sign that layoffs are accelerating in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Combined with last week’s report that 3.3 million people sought unemployment aid three weeks ago, the US economy has now suffered nearly 10 million layoffs in just the past few weeks — far exceeding the figure for any corresponding period on record.

The stunning report issued last Thursday by the Labor Department showed that job cuts are mounting against the backdrop of economies in the United States and abroad that have almost certainly sunk into a severe recession as businesses have shut down across the world.

'This kind of upending of the labor market in such a short time is unheard of,' said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank.

The sight of long rows of cars waiting outside food banks has become more frequent since the pandemic has made its impact on the United States.

On Thursday, hundreds of motorists waited hours to collect food from a food bank in Orlando, a city that has seen a surge in unemployment after the town's famous theme parks were forced to close its doors to the coronavirus outbreak.

Last Monday, motorists were forced to wait on a mile-long line for a drive-up emergency food distribution set up in Pittsburgh to meet social distancing requirements due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, had only 1500 food boxes as local police set up portable toilets every 3/10ths of a mile to handle the large crowds who showed up.

The food bank, which is about 10 miles outside Pittsburgh and serves 11 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, is considered an essential facility during containment efforts underway to slow the spread of the deadly flu-like virus, also known as COVID-19.

However, officials at the non-profit have had to cancel several food distributions and not have volunteers at its warehouse to meet mandates set up by health officials in response to the virus, WTAE reports.

The measures come as the food bank moves to protect its staff and the community from unnecessary exposure.


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