In Miami-Dade County, food-pantry lines are long, evictions loom, and families are shouldering the challenges of job loss and food insecurity. Scores of nonprofits are putting in overtime to feed, clothe, house, and otherwise provide for people whose lives have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Organizations like Feeding South Florida, the area's largest food bank; and Big Brothers Big Sisters, a legacy youth mentorship program; express nothing but gratitude for Miami's generosity and support.
Still, those organizations and others need a little extra help this holiday season, as federal coronavirus relief funds dry up and the need continues to grow.
If you're in a position to take on a charitable cause this year, here are some organizations gathering food, toys, clothes, monetary donations, and other essentials for Miamians in need over the holidays.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Miami
If this were a regular holiday season, Big Brothers Big Sisters Miami would be preparing for a huge Christmas Day gift distribution event. Children, or "littles," as the organization calls them, would be tearing the wrapping paper off their gifts and showing off their toys while their families and mentors, or "bigs," looked on.
This may not be a regular holiday season, but the organization still plans to provide gifts to more than 1,000 children.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is asking the community to donate unwrapped gifts — action figures and dolls for children ages 5 to 8, Legos and arts & crafts supplies for 8- to 11-year-olds, and sporting goods, makeup kits, purses, wallets, and jewelry for teenagers.
Gifts can be bought via the organization's Amazon wish list. All purchases will be delivered directly to the organization. To arrange a donation drop-off, call 305-644-7072. Big Brothers Big Sisters Miami is also accepting financial donations and applications to become a child's mentor.
"Every little bit helps to make sure the kids have a smile on their face, especially now during the holidays," says Gale Nelson, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Miami. "We need a little more cheer and joy in 2020."
Camillus House has provided services to Miami-Dade's low-income and homeless populations since 1960. The organization usually hosts a Christmas Day brunch for hundreds of people living on the street and in its shelters. Sam Gil, Camillus House's senior vice president of operations, says the organization is figuring out the logistics for a safe holiday meal distribution this year.
Because Camillus House provides a shower program for people experiencing homelessness, toiletry donations of all kinds are appreciated. The organization also provides fresh clothes for those who seek out the shower program. Underwear, bras, socks, shoes, shirts, and pants are always needed.
Lower temperatures during the winter months means those experiencing homelessness will need blankets, sweaters, sleeping bags, socks, and other items to keep themselves warm. Any such items can be dropped off at a donation bin outside the Camillus House main campus, 1603 NW Seventh Ave. For large-scale or corporate donations, pickups can be arranged by calling 305-374-1065.
Gil says Camillus House has kept its COVID-19 transmission rate low. "But people get a little cabin crazy," he says. "We have activities and bingo. We did a chess tournament this past weekend. If people want to donate books or crossword puzzles, we're always looking for things to do."
For ways to donate, see here.
Feeding South Florida
In fiscal year 2019, Feeding South Florida distributed 62 million pounds of food to residents of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties. Food insecurity in South Florida as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic means the region's largest food bank is serving more people than ever. During the past nine months alone, Feeding South Florida has distributed more than 150 million pounds of food. Hundreds of cars line up at distribution events, and drivers often wait hours for produce, dairy, and meat.
"We’re seeing that over 40 percent of families coming to us are doing so for the very first time, and it’s through no fault of their own," says Feeding South Florida's executive vice president Sari Vatske. "The need is immense, and we're expecting that need to continue for the foreseeable future."
But the organization is preparing for a critical food shortage when federal coronavirus relief funds under the CARES Act expire at the end of the month. Feeding South Florida will need significant contributions to keep up with the demands for food.
According to Vatske, every dollar donated to Feeding South Florida can provide nine meals.
"If you give us $10, we can provide 90 means through our [purchasing power]," she says. "Families need fresh, healthy perishable products, so we are able to purchase protein and produce for pennies on the dollar."
You can make donations online or mail a check to:
Feeding South Florida, ATTN: Community Relations
2501 SW 32nd Ter.
Pembroke Park, FL 33023
For information about corporate and other ways of giving, visit feedingsouthflorida.org.
Feeding South Florida partners with some 300 nonprofits. If you need food assistance, find a pantry near you here.
Greater Miami Jewish Federation
Throughout the pandemic, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation has purchased kosher food for monthly drive-thru distributions. Michelle Labgold, the federation's chief planning officer, says more than 300 cars have lined up at each distribution event.
"This is a really difficult time," Labgold says. "So many people are food insecure, and it's heartbreaking to see people lined up to get food packages. We're trying to provide the basics of what people need. For the Jewish community that keeps kosher, those items can be that much more difficult to secure. Religious observance is critical. Where we can, we're providing things that bring a little more joy and spiritual sustenance as well as physical sustenance."
That means providing Challah bread for Shabbat dinners and latkes, candles, and candies for Hannukah.
"To make things feel a little normal," Labgold says.
The next distribution is scheduled for December 22 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Dave & Mary Alper Jewish Community Center, 11155 SW 112th Ave., Miami, 33176. Labgold says financial donations to buy kosher food and other necessary items would be appreciated.
The Greater Miami Jewish Federation accepts monetary donations online. The organization is also seeking in-person and at-home volunteers for food distributions and holiday initiatives. For food or other assistance, call the Jewish community's confidential helpline, 305-576-6550.
Lotus House provides housing, counseling, mentorship, and healing to women and children who have faced homelessness. The organization focuses on providing a safe haven for women and youth who have experienced trauma and abuse.
For the holidays, Lotus House is organizing a toy drive for the children and putting together care packages for the women. The organization posted a wish list on Instagram and Amazon with gift ideas for babies, young boys and girls, and moms. Monetary donations made online would go toward a special holiday meal for Lotus House residents. The deadline for holiday donations is December 21. The organization is seeking volunteers to help sort toys.
Service Network for Children of Inmates
A few times a year, some children of incarcerated parents in Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, and other Florida cities get the chance to visit their mom or dad at a corrections facility. During the visit, they read books, talk, or play games. The kids can hug their parents. Those visits, organized by the Service Network for Children of Inmates, have been canceled this year because of COVID-19.
"We can't give them the one thing that they want, which is to see their loved one," says Shellie Solomon, the organization's director. "What we're trying to do is give them a Christmas. We can give them a present and a holiday stocking so they can feel the joy of Christmas and the love that comes from their community."
The organization set up a GoFundMe page for donations for its holiday toy drive. Service Network for Children of Inmates' website also provides options for people to donate stocking stuffers, individual gifts, or sponsor a child or family's wish list.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.