PLANT CITY, Fla. – 664 families per hour.
That’s how many families, on average, workers were funneling through the ‘Food for Florida’ application site in Plant City as of Monday, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
That’s roughly 8-10,000 families each day.
Since Thursday, more than 30,000 households had applied to receive the temporary food stamps, made available to families impacted by Hurricane Irma who don’t otherwise qualify for the food assistance.
Families who qualify—based on income after disaster-related expenses, like proof of loss of food or missed work, are deducted—can receive two months of food assistance. Amounts vary based on household size.
A standard household of four with a gross monthly income of $2,700 after disaster-related expenses are deducted could receive approximately $1,200 in food assistance for a two-month period.
Those currently on food assistance do not qualify.
The massive turnout of people looking to apply created persistently long lines and traffic headaches in the area for several days.
“It’s difficult to find a place that is this large,” said Food for Florida spokesperson Terry Field. “We’d looked at other places across the county that, for whatever reason, were not able to meet these needs.”
Raymond James Stadium and the Florida State Fairgrounds were among alternatives that were booked during the time period needed for the assistance sign-ups, one program manager told 10News.
Some people tried to avoid the traffic by parking their car away from the site and walking to the gate only to be turned away and told they must be in a vehicle in order to enter.
Elizabeth Nunez of Winter Haven stood alongside the road with her two young children and sister after being told she couldn’t enter the site.
“I got to find a ride with somebody else then or, you know, it’s a four to five-hour wait,” she said. “It’s kind of disappointing.”
Citing safety concerns, Field suggested people ask for a ride or carpool instead. He said the rule was implemented after several people abandoned their vehicles in the long lines and walked to get inside.
“We don’t want anyone parking their car, we don’t want anyone trying to walk through,” Field told 10News. “The last thing we want is for someone to be injured on the roads.”
Kyle Weronik, who lived in Plant City, figured he’d walk from his home to apply. After being told he couldn’t enter, he found someone to offer him a ride inside.
“Started walking up, found out you couldn’t walk in and hopped in the car with somebody,” he said, talking to 10News after making it through the application process.
Once inside, people generally reported the process went quickly and smoothly.
While the large crowds were anticipated, Field said what wasn’t was the volume of people coming from elsewhere in the state seeking assistance. The Plant City site was only intended for Hillsborough County residents, Field told 10News.
Also, no one was following a system that designated certain sign-up days based on the first letter of the applicant’s last name.
“With a situation like this, especially when we’re providing such assistant to so many people, word of mouth tends to spread very quickly, so the understanding we’re not turning people away, it was just impossible to enforce,” Field said.
But for those who got what they came for, like Cassie Simpson of Valrico, it was worth the wait.
“We had a lot of storm damage, when we came back home a lot of our food was gone,” she said after receiving approximately $1,000 in temporary food assistance for her husband and two young children for two months.
“It feels good, it takes a lot of the burden off of things we lost and extra money we had to spend.”
The 'Food for Florida' site in Hillsborough County is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Tuesday. Officials are encouraging people to pre-register online before arriving in person to expedite the process. Click here to register online.
Here’s where you can apply for the Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program:
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