LAKELAND, Fla. - The Department of Children and Families (DCF), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), will implement the Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program in Lakeland to assist individuals and families impacted by Hurricane Irma from October 14 through 18, 2017.
RP Funding Building
Location: 701 W Lime Street, Lakeland, FL 33815
Hours: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Note: The line may close prior to 6 p.m. based on time to process those already in line.
To qualify for the Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance program, applicants must have lived or worked in one of the counties declared for FEMA Individual Assistance on September 5, and not be receiving food assistance through the regular Food Assistance Program (SNAP). Additionally, eligible individuals and families must have suffered a disaster-related loss, such as damage to their homes or self-employment property, loss of food, reduction or loss of income, or have incurred other disaster related expenses. DCF will provide or mail Electronic Benefits Transfer cards to eligible individuals and families to use at authorized USDA food retailers. The program counts only income and expenses from September 5 through October 4, 2017.
ABC Action News followed the Lakeland site’s progress since day one, on Saturday at the RP Funding Center.
At the beginning of the week, the line was short and applicants could walk right in.
Wednesday was a different story as some waited until the last minute to get in line.
“So many mouths to feed no money and no food to buy,” Jovanny, a resident from Poinciana, said. “I’m just glad that this is help for everybody who truly needs it.”
Jovanny had been waiting in line two hours, a fast two hours according to him.
“Pretty fluent, it has its own speed,” Jovanny said.
Right next to Jovanny in line was his wife and young son, Vincent. Jovanny says the hurricane didn’t bother his infant son but the winds and stress kept his family up when it swiped through Florida.
And just as fast as cars were leaving, more were coming in.
“Basically we had to clean out our whole refrigerator to be honest with you because all of the food was done,” Daniela Yepes, said, as she held her two-month-old baby girl, Emma.
Daniela and her family tried to escape the wrath of Irma during evacuation, when her car was totaled by a driver smashed into her stopped car, going 60 MPH. Her family was not hurt, but they did have to squeeze into another car to continue their evacuation to Atlanta. Daniela says the cost of the evacuation and the cost of all of her lost food forced her into the massive line in Lakeland.
“We drove 40 minutes 48 minutes to be here,” Yepes said.
Others like Jovanny, waited until the last minute to come because he and his wife couldn’t afford to take a day off of work.
“We have to work because we were absent for so many days,” Jovanny said since Irma came, it’s been a constant battle to try to replace food and pay bills without getting behind.
DCF reports it has served at least 35,000 families at the Lakeland site alone before Wednesday. And more than two million families state-wide.
“It's appreciated, we are actually going to get some help with food since we lost everything,” Yepes said.
By the end of the day DCF says it will likely see 12,000 more applicants.
“It’s very very hard. It's a very big help for a lot of people a lot of families out there,” Jovanny said.
Food for Florida will move onto Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Desoto Counties next.