Hard Times Mean Long Lines at Pasco Food Giveaway

State Sen. Mike Fasano
State Sen. Mike Fasano gives away a ham
Cars wait for food
Cars line up on Ridge Road
NEW PORT RICHEY (2011-12-16) -

You may have heard the story earlier this month about 1,900 people lining up in Pinellas County for a food giveaway. Four years after economic hard times started in Florida, even formerly middle class people are becoming more and more destitute. Today, there was another huge giveaway in Pasco County - where the need is just as great.

There were pallets stacked high with canned goods, okra, tomatoes, hams - even candy canes. And a lot of hungy people waiting for them.

So many that a line of cars stretched for a half mile down Ridge Road before they could be served in the parking lot of Redeemer Community Church in New Port Richey.

Organizers say this is the largest turnout they've ever had. More than a thousand people may have lined up before they ran out of food.

Normally, Robin Falzone is a teacher at Longleaf Elementary School. Today, she's passing out candy canes.

"There are triple the amount that we had the past couple of years, and I'll just feel bad when we have to say we have no more food and there are people still in line," she says. "I just wish we didn't have all these trials and tribulations. It's sad."

Falzone says she's surprised to see this kind of destitution in a part of Pasco County that's home to many well-off subdivisions.

"I've lived here 32 years, and there hasn't been this kind of poverty," says Falzone. "It's the times. Look what's happening in the world."

She gave candy canes and a big smile to Jimmy Nieves as he drove up to the church.

"I appreciate this 100 percent," says Nieves. "It's just me and my wife, and they've cut down on a lot of things. Even on food stamps they've cut down. But there's nothing we can do. You know, that's life."

State Sen. Mike Fasano of Pasco County is one of the event's organizers. It wasn't even 10 in the morning when he expressed concern that everyone in line wouldn't get a food package.

"We were able to get enough for for about 500 families," he says, "but I think before the end of the day, there'll be a lot more than 500 families coming through."

Two bicyclists came prepared with bins strapped to their fenders, and one man braved the line in a motorized wheelchair. But this isn't your stereotypical crowd of desititute people - many drove late-model cars. Fasano noted that many families are slipping out of the middle class.

"These are people - many of them that have been struggling for years - but these are people who have been struggling recently," Fasano says. "People who might have lost their jobs, families who might not have the two incomes coming in any longer, struggling to pay their mortgage, struggling to pay their homeowner's insurance, struggling to pay their monthly electric bills."

The hams came from Publix, and much of the food was collected by local school students. Farmshare helped out. It's a cooperative where farmers from around the state donate food to people in need.

Nearby, Phyllis Taylor sat by the front door of the church, waiting for a taxi to take her back to Moon Lake. Her food is spread out on the asphalt.

"I've got tomatoes, lemon-lime juice, a ham, and a whole big thing of green beans. And me and this lady who is sitting here, we share it," she says.

Taylor is disabled says if it weren't for the food giveaway, she wouldn't eat.

"Last five days of the month, we have no food," says Taylor, "And this means a lot, 'cause we will have it."

Her son used to be able to help, but Taylor says he can't find a job. She says it's as bad as she can remember.

"I've never been hungry before," she says. "But the last three months, we've had nothing to eat at all but beans, and it's been horrible."

Taylor plans to make a special meal - a green bean cassarole - and wants to tell everyone involved how she feels.

"Words cannot tell them how much I appreciate it," she says.

She usually can't afford a taxi, but today she was lucky - the taxi driver agreed to take her home for only $4.

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