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March to a Million Meals: The pandemic has increased food insecurity in Southwest Florida

Rising unemployment rates and an increased cost of living, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, have all created this growing amount of food insecurity in Southwest Florida.

40 minutes before a mobile food pantry was set to open in Lehigh Acres, there were already dozens of cars lined up. Families like Annie’s with her grandmother behind the wheel, two kids in the back seat, hoping to put food on the table.

“You go to the grocery store and it’s over $100 for just a few items,” said Annie.

While Annie does have a job as a pharmacy technician, she can’t always find full-time work.

“It’s just hard, every day trying to feed the family…trying to stay safe and keep working and doing it all at the same time,” she said.

Barbara Evans works with Harry Chapin Food Bank. “Especially during the pandemic the person who is coming through this car line is not who you think it is,” said Evans.

“It’s someone who has been working and perhaps is still working however they’ve seen a shift in the number of hours that they are able to work,” Evan said.

“We’ve seen teachers in this car line and simply because their pay as a teacher isn’t sufficient and they’ve lost her second income because they used to tutor and now, they can’t tutor because of the needs for social distancing or what not. So, there are all sorts of people who are coming through this line, many for the first time,” said Evans.

Robert is another person who has had to come to the food pantry. While his wife still has her job, he was laid off a few months ago and has health issues.

“But I’m still here, I’m alive I’m good,” Robert said.

This pantry is helping his family make ends meet. “It helps a lot,” Robert said.

Volunteers loaded more than 25,000 pounds of food into cars. That’s enough to fill 750 stomachs. So, they’ll do it again tomorrow and for the rest of the week.

“I can tell based on the looks of people on their faces as they approach and for the first time and they’ve never done this before, and they don’t know what to experience you see the transformation as they go through the process and as they leave its sheer relief on their face which tells me these people are in these lines because they need it,” Evans said.

“Super grateful for this, we really appreciate it, thank you so very much,” Annie said.

All across Southwest Florida, there are families in need of help. They want to put food on their table for their families.

If you would like to donate, head to the WINK Feeds Families website.

Reporter:Lois Thome
Writer:Drew Hill
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