Food pantries maintain support while preparing for hurricane season

The time now is to prepare while Southwest Florida is in the cone of uncertainty for Possible Tropical Cyclone #9. But, during a pandemic, preparing looks a lot different.

Many people here in the region are struggling to make ends meet and get food on the table, so many organizations are trying to meet the need and do it safely.

Some of the local food banks we spoke to Wednesday say the need for food in the community has more than doubled since the pandemic began.

However, they say they’ve learned valuable lessons through the pandemic. And, even through storms like Hurricane Irma, they’re using to help people this hurricane season.

Compared to last year, many people we talked to at Gladiolus Food Pantry in south Fort Myers say they’re not as prepared this hurricane season. That’s because some still haven’t returned to work. Others are working fewer hours.

Yeah, I worry every day,” Nick Zuppas said. “Every single day.”

Some tell us they’ve learned to rely on neighbors if severe weather hits.

“We all work together as a team in our whole neighborhood,” Marilyn Alladio said. “I mean, we all know each other.”

This food pantry now serves about 300 families, which is double from this time last year.

“People are not prepared enough for the pandemic,” said Miriam Ortiz, the founder and executive director at Gladiolus Food Pantry. “I don’t even know how we’re going to prepare if we have a hurricane coming by. It’s not going to be good.”

Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida supplies much of the food at the Gladiolus Food Pantry and to pantries across Southwest Florida.

“It’s very hard to predict, not only where the storm is going to come, who’s going to be affected,” said Richard LeBer, the president and CEO of Harry Chapin Food Bank.

LeBer says the food bank learned valuable lessons from Irma, such as waiting to see how bad the damage is and coordinating relief efforts to get food and water where it’s needed most.

“There are literally millions of pounds of food and water and MREs ready to be deployed when we get to the point when we have someplace we know needs help,” LeBer said.

Gladiolus Food Pantry told us it will also continue its contact-fee pickup method throughout the pandemic to keep people safe. And they will stay open through severe weather to make sure people have food and water.

With the continued threat of the virus, LeBer knows they might have to continue drive-thru mobile food pantries to keep contact at a minimum.

“We’re very good at that, and we’ve done it before,” LeBer said. “And we’ll do it again.”

Reporter:Justin Kase
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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