As Florida Vaccine Distribution Speeds Up, Hunger Remains High

Feb 18, 2021

Between March and November of 2020, the nonprofit food distribution organization Farm Share handed out more than a hundred-million pounds of food across the Sunshine State.

It was a 600% increase over its pre-pandemic volume, according to Farm Share Marketing Director Gil Zepeda, and it has not meaningfully diminished nearly a year later. 

“As a matter of fact, this is me being very honest with you, the lines of cars are getting longer,” Zepeda said. “And because of the fact that people have been out of work for so long, they are getting more and more desperate.”

Zepeda said much of the heightened demand likely stemmed from the unique strain that the coronavirus placed on Florida’s massive tourism industry. 

“COVID has not gone anywhere. The cruise industry is not back up and running. The restaurant industry is not anywhere near back to normal levels, and neither is the entertainment industry or the tourism industry. A lot of these businesses just broke and never came back.”

Zepeda said as many as one in five children in Florida will face hunger in 2021, a total of some 900,000 children. 

He said although schools have technically reopened, two-week quarantines for the whole class if a student is exposed mean not all children are in school all the time. Zepeda said he frequently sees children in the food lines with their parents, lining up as early as 5 a.m. for a food distribution that opens four hours later. 

“You’re talking about a psychological trauma, a malnutrition trauma, that’s taking effect in our state at numbers that we’ve never seen before.”

Farm Share plans to host two food distribution events in Jacksonville this weekend.

A separate food distribution event, this one from Lutheran Social Services, will be offered Friday, February 19 at 10 a.m. at the LSS facility at 4615 Philips Highway in Jacksonville. That event is also first-come-first serve.

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.