Long waits, traffic jams at last day of Florida for Food program

Oct 21, 2017
Pre-registered applicants apply for Food For Florida disaster food assistance at John Prince Park Saturday morning, October 21, 2017. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Six-hour waits on Dixie Highway, Congress Avenue and Lantana Road greeted applicants as the sun came up Saturday, the last day for the Food for Florida Program.

“We got here at 6 a.m. Traffic already way backed up. My wife said we should have been here at 2 a.m. I should have listened to her,” said Peter Gastrons as he and his wife Alice sat in southbound gridlock on Dixie Highway, just north of Sixth Avenue South, about 8 a.m.

Alice rolled her eyes.

The Boynton Beach couple were on their way to apply for the The Food for Florida program at John Prince Memorial Park west of Lake Worth. Applications were also being accepted at Lake Ida West Park in Delray Beach and Glades Pioneer Park in Belle Glade.

The program, which began at the three parks on Tuesday and ran daily, offered vouchers to families who lost food in power outages or had their homes damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Saturday was the make-up day for anyone who could not make it during the week. The application centers opened at 7 a.m. They closed at 6 p.m.

READ: At John Prince Park, a day of waiting and wilting in the heat

By 9 a.m., traffic on northbound Congress Avenue at the entrance to John Prince Park, was backed up well past JFK Medical Center. Large crowds were also reported at Lake Ida West Park.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies at John Prince Park were asked often about the long lines. Several deputies suggested applicants go to Pioneer Park in Belle Glade where they said they heard lines were not as long.

Louise Samedy was in the passenger’s seat with her family as they approached the John Prince entrance about 9 a.m. She and her husband have a two-year-old. They are expecting a second child.

They got in line about 4 a.m.

“We lost food when the power went out. We had damage to our roof,” said the West Palm Beach resident when asked what type of relief she was applying for.

Those who qualified received benefit cards, possibly worth hundreds of dollars, that could redeemed at supermarkets and other stores.

Applicants could pre-register online and had to apply in person to receive benefits.

The benefits vary based on income and are available to people who do not normally receive food stamps. A person who earns $1,664 monthly could be eligible to receive $386 in benefits, while a family earning less than $2,710 could receive $1,289.

READ: Palm Beach Post’s full coverage of Hurricane Irma

The program is part of the Department of Children and Families’ Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that provides food assistance in 48 Florida counties.

To qualify for the program, applicants must have lived or worked in one of the 48 counties and have experienced at least one impact: damage or destruction of their home or business; loss of income and disaster-related expenses, such as food loss, home and business repairs, evacuation and temporary shelter expenses. People receiving food stamp benefits are not eligible.

Juan Blanco, an air conditioning repairman, was in the passenger’s seat with a friend as they approached the entrance. The Greenacres resident, who has a two-year-old son, said they had been waiting since 4 a.m.

“I have damage to my roof,” Blanco said.

Since Hurricane Irma, more than $954 million in federal food assistance has been distributed through the program across Florida to more than 7.2 million Floridians, according to a press release issued Friday by the Florida Department the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).

A sliver of that total went to a relative of Estelle Diaz, a Greenacres resident who was waiting Saturday morning at the exit of John Prince Park. Her family members, who had lost food in their refrigerator after their power went out, were in the park applying for relief.

“They gave me about $300,” said one of Diaz’s relatives when they stopped to pick her up.