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Authorities expect rising need for free food with worsening economy during coronavirus pandemic

Fight against hunger continues with unemployment rising
Fight against hunger continues with unemployment rising

Economists believe this could be the worst year since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Federal, state and local authorities know the ripple effect of the economic losses that were necessary to save lives during the coronavirus pandemic are just beginning. Rising unemployment comes with hunger.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the scenes across the state reminded her of the days when she was a high school student volunteering at the Camillus House, a non-profit agency in Miami. Fried said the state is looking at really large unemployment numbers.

“Anywhere between 6 and 15% means that we are feeding an additional six million to 11 million people in our state,” Fried said on Tuesday.

About 1,500 families pick up food at Sherbondy Park in Opa-locka
About 1,500 families pick up food at Sherbondy Park in Opa-locka

Food distribution sites on Tuesday morning in Coral Springs, Cutler Bay and Opa-locka couldn’t keep up with the demand. In a couple of hours, hundreds of people in each location opened their trunks, so volunteers could drop off free fruits, vegetables and other items. There wasn’t enough for everyone.

Farm Share, Feeding South Florida and other food pantries are focused on helping as many people as they can. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is also distributing free food to families in need at 50 locations. Hundreds turned out to Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School to pick up individual meals.

Miami-Dade County is buying from farmers in Homestead and donating the vegetables and fruits to Farm Share. Volunteers are expecting fresh tomatoes, green beans, squash, mangos, and guava in the coming days.

Miami-Dade distributes free food at Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High School
Miami-Dade distributes free food at Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High School

The Florida Department of Children and Families announced Tuesday food stamp recipients will be able to buy groceries online from Walmart or Amazon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients will be able to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer card starting April 21st.

The Internal Revenue Service is working to distribute aid under the Economic Impact Payment program. U.S. residents will receive $1,200 for individual or head of household filers, and $2,400 for married filing jointly. Those who didn’t file taxes during 2018 or 2019 need to apply for the aid.

“At some point, the federal system dollars from all the various stimulus packages are going to dry up, so we have to be thinking ahead,” Fried said.

Fried is planning to create public-private partnerships to open soup kitchens across the state. She said it’s a long-term strategy that could include Walt Disney properties in Orlando and hotels and restaurants with banquet-style kitchens.

“We are on this,” Fried said. “We are going to continue to ensure the people of South Florida’s don’t go hungry.”


The Great Depression, the worst economic downturn in U.S. history, began with the stock market crash of 1929. There wasn’t a year with a single-digit unemployment rate until 1941.

1929: 3.2 %

1930: 8.7%

1931: 15.9%

1932: 23.6%

1933: 24.9%

1934: 21.7%

1935: 20.1%

1936: 16.9%

1937: 14.3%

1938: 19%

1939: 17.2%

1940: 14.6%

1941: 9.9%

1942: 4.7%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.