Miami Beach is usually the spot for holiday jaunts to luxury hotels and champagne-soaked David Guetta sets at LIV. But as COVID-19 continues to ravage the economy, the city has been forced to confront its class divide, which has left many residents hungry and in desperate need of aid.
This past Saturday, cars lined up on Collins Avenue from 21st Street all the way down to Fifth Street to receive food from Feeding South Florida in an open lot by Collins Park. Since the weekly food distribution began April 11, the number of people coming has skyrocketed. Hundreds flocked to pick up free food in a place where 1 percenters normally go to escape the winter.
"It's the longest line we've had — it wrapped all the way onto Ocean Drive," says Miami Beach Commissioner David Richardson, who helped set up the weekly event.
Feeding South Florida has been expanding its efforts to distribute food throughout the state, going so far as to double its operations as more than 1.5 million Floridians have filed for unemployment. The food packages Saturday included fresh produce such as pineapples and green beans, as well as frozen proteins such as chicken breasts.
In Miami Beach, Richardson says, he was struck by how many younger people waited for hours to get food.
"Under normal circumstances, we're passing out food to seniors, but there were people in their 20s and 30s in the line," he says. "There were people who are young and working in restaurants and suddenly they lost their jobs. They have nothing left."
The line of cars included a number of international tourists who've been stranded in Miami. Several visitors have been trapped here because their countries closed their borders to international travel, leaving some to squat in abandoned houses or find other means of shelter.
"There were tourists from Argentina, Ecuador, and Chile asking for food. We were checking their passports," Richardson's aide Luis Callejas says.
Volunteers and Miami Beach employees expected to have enough food for 700 families, but they were able to stretch their provisions to feed 750. Still, it wasn't enough for everyone who came.
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"Some people had to be turned away by the end," Richardson says. "And in another two weeks or so, we're going to see even more demand."
Miami Beach Commissioner David Richardson @david4florida led a food drive today. @MiamiBeachNews— Martin Vassolo (@martindvassolo) April 11, 2020
"We provided food for 700 families today moving through the line in vehicles. Thanks to Feeding South Florida for partnering with me and our city government." Photos: Atiosis Blanco pic.twitter.com/V2Ys6NkE1y
At other sites throughout Miami-Dade, people have been turned away as charities struggle to meet the demand for free food.
Richardson says Miami Beach will continue to distribute food with Feeding South Florida every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. at 2100 Collins Ave. for the foreseeable future. People must drive up in a car; if multiple families are riding in the same vehicle, they must show proof of separate addresses.