Duval and Nassau County residents waited in long lines outside for many hours in the Regency Square Mall parking lot Wednesday in hopes of getting help with buying food through special disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance.
The SNAP benefits, or food stamps, are being offered through the Food for Florida program all over the state for families impacted by Hurricane Irma, whose incomes are too high for them to qualify for the assistance under normal circumstances.
Northside resident Jillian Ringel, standing near the back end of the line, was one of roughly 1,000 at Regency waiting around 11 a.m.
“I’ve been waiting for about two hours,” she said.
Ringel needs the assistance because she said she lost all of her perishable food during the storm after being without power for several days among other storm-related hardships.
“My husband owns his own business and (the storm) put us out of work for at least 10 days,” she said. “It put a lot of his projects as a plumber on the back burner because the people who were going to spend their money with us had to turn around and use their money for the hurricane.”
Ringel still had hours to go before reaching the front of the line for a required in-person interview. Others, like Che Jenkins, had been in line since 6 a.m. After nearly five hours he was almost at the front of the line.
“I feel like I’m about to get on the best ride in an amusement park,” he said.
On a 90-degree day he had been standing in the uncovered parking lot line. People around him were holding free bags of ice to their heads. Others were under umbrellas and some brought their own chairs.
“I’ve seen three people pass out so far,” Jenkins said.
The program is being implemented by the Department of Children and Families in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The organizations are giving out thousands of bottles of water to those who will be waiting in line this week and next. In addition, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department employees were checking on those who were feeling woozy from the heat.
DCF Spokesman John Harrell said part of the reason for the massive line is people came on the wrong day. Although assistance dates run from Oct. 11 through 16 at Regency, each day is meant to serve people whose last names begin with different letters. For instance, Monday was for Nassau County and Duval County residents whose last names begin with A-D.
As of mid-day Wednesday, Harrell said people arriving were been turned away because the crowd was just too big. He said those with A-D last names who weren’t seen Wednesday can come back on Oct. 17, a makeup day.
“We recognize there are thousands of people who need assistance,” Harrell said. “We want to do this in the most orderly fashion possible.”
Harrell said there’s a rumor the benefits will run out which he said is not true.
He said to speed up the process, people should preregister online and only one person per-household needs to show up, as one EBT card per household will be issued. People need to bring their Identification cards and information about household incomes.
“So many hardworking families in the Jacksonville area are working paycheck to paycheck,” Harrell said. “This is a way to help them.”
To qualify for the Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program, individuals must have lived or worked in one of the 48 declared counties on Sept. 5, not be a customer in the regular food assistance program and need assistance due to Irma impacts.
Duval, Nassau counties - Regency Square Mall, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
- 10/11 – A - D
- 10/12 – E - H
- 10/13 – I - L
- 10/14 – M – P
- 10/15 – Q - T
- 10/16 – U - Z
- 10/17 – Make-up Day
St. Johns, Flagler counties - St. Augustine Fairgrounds, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.
- 10/11 – A - F
- 10/12 – G - J
- 10/13 – K - O
- 10/14 – P - Z
- 10/15 – Make-up day