Thousands of residents from about 14 counties came to the Pasco County Fairgrounds to qualify for emergency assistance in replacing food lost during Hurricane Irma’s power outage.
From Nov. 5 through Nov. 8, Pasco County deputies monitored an orderly progression of vehicles that stacked up in both directions along State Road 52, outside Dade City.
Traffic moved slowly, but the disruptions that seemed to overwhelm similar events in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties didn’t materialize.
The fairgrounds were a change in venue after Pasco County commissioners backed away from an agreement to hold the event at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Center, on Collier Parkway. They decided that using that would result in traffic gridlock on what already is one of the county’s busiest urban corridors.
The income-based Food for Florida program is administered by the Florida Department of Children & Families in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture. Dozens of four-day events have taken place across the state, starting at 6 a.m., and ending at 7 p.m., each day.
In Pasco, cars and trucks filled the 20 acres of hilly grassland at the fairgrounds that usually sees its busiest traffic at fair time.
By mid-day of Nov. 8, more than 21,000 households had applications processed during the multiday event. About 90 percent qualified for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or the D-Snap program.
Residents came not only from Pasco, but from Collier, Lee, Volusia, Sarasota and Polk counties, too.
One woman, who didn’t want to give her name, drove about two hours from Brevard County.
Most who came from long distances said they made the trip because food sites in their areas had closed before they realized help was available.
And, on the final day of the program, some said they had just learned they could be eligible.
Teresita Ayala, who lives in Pasco, said her sister-in-law in Tampa told her about the program going on at the fairgrounds.
So, Ayala and her friend, Shawna Stacy, came on the final day.
Ayala has four children.
Power was out for nine days, said Ayala. “So, all our food went to waste.”
Stacy lives with her grandparents, one of whom is diabetic. They had no power for about a week.
They took on extra expenses buying more food, and ice to keep it cool, Stacy said.
Dade City resident William Wilson sat under a canopy, out of the sun. He drove a friend to the fairgrounds to make an application for D-Snap.
“I’m just helping a neighbor,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he receives food stamps so didn’t qualify for D-Snap.
Instead, he and other regular food stamp recipients will get increased monthly allotments for September and October.
Loss of food during the hurricane made it tough, Wilson said.
The last minute decision to pick another site to host the D-Snap event meant adjusting the event’s schedule from an October start to November.
Pasco County commissioners initially agreed to allow the state Department of Children and Families to use the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Center. Within about two days of the announcement of the event, there were about 11,000 preregistrations.
The potential for large crowds, and traffic gridlock, on such a busy corridor set off alarms with county officials and county commissioners.
With the recreation center no longer a possibility, the board of directors of the Pasco County Fair Association offered their site for rental. The association also had staff members available to help with parking and other activities.
As the fairgrounds site in Pasco closed, the Department of Children and Families had two remaining sites scheduled to open in Miami-Dade and Broward counties on Nov. 7 through Nov. 9. Those would conclude the in-person statewide signups, and distribution of D-Snap cards.
For additional information on eligibility, visit DCF.state.fl.us/programs/access.signup.
Published November 15, 2017