Coronavirus US: Half-mile line of cars at Orlando food bank
Just weeks ago the snaking, hours-long lines were packed with thrill-seekers eagerly awaiting their turns on the world famous rides and attractions.
Today, the hundreds of families flocking to a church parking lot across town from Orlando’s iconic resorts and theme parks are here for a starkly different reason: survival.
‘In the amusement parks, the purpose or the outcome is about having joy or a thrill,’ says mom-of-three Glenda Hernandez, winding down her window to speak with a DailyMail.com reporter.
‘This is about having a child’s belly full for the night or the next couple of nights on whatever they give us.’
Glenda is one of hundreds of motorists lining up for an emergency food handout from masked and gloved volunteers at the Mount Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Apopka.
Hundreds of families have been flocking to the parking lot of Mount Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church to collect food during the coronavirus pandemic
Many food banks across the state have been forced to close because of the risk posed by coronavirus, but this food bank has developed a drive-through system for minimal contact
DailyMail.com witnessed a 50-vehicle line stretching a half mile waiting to collect food from the church
A trolley system allows volunteers to quickly ramp up the operation to run daily from 7am through 5 or 6pm, supplying around 1,000 vehicles while having minimal contact with the occupants
New claims for unemployment benefits rose to 6.65 million this week from the 3.3 million the previous week. It means that 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the two weeks that the coronavirus started rapidly spreading across the country
While many food banks across the state have been forced to close because of the risk posed by coronavirus, here they have developed a system akin to a drive-by burger joint.
When she finally reaches the front of the 50-vehicle column stretching five suburban blocks, Glenda pops the trunk of her Ford Taurus without getting out or coming within 6ft of the church’s disaster team.
A volunteer loads Glenda’s vehicle with two cartons of eggs, bags of peppers, apples, bananas, three pounds of frozen turkey breast, fish, tomatoes, two heads of lettuce and a half case of water.
‘It’s just a blessing from God that he still provides for us, either way,’ says the certified nurse assistant who was forced to give up her job to stay home with her kids.
‘Sometimes you have to be a little bit patient with all these lines but it’s worth it because the stores are empty.’
Organizer Lenworth Gray from the Second Harvest Foodbank of Central Florida says his 20-strong team are taking all the precautions they can in line with CDC and World Health Organization social distancing protocols.
They can load up around 100 cars an hour and will keep going through the day until their supply of donated food runs out.
‘The level of need is high. It looks like it will increase as people are losing their jobs, being furloughed and laid off,’ he tells DailyMail.com.
‘The situation with food is changing in Orlando, in the state of Florida and worldwide. There is going to be an increasing need for the basic food that people need to survive.’
If confirmation were needed of the colossal scale of the economic disaster unfolding across the US, it arrived Thursday morning in the shape of new Treasury figures revealing 6.6m people filed new unemployment claims last week.
That was the most in history, more than double the 3.1m estimate and means that 10m people have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks. In Florida alone there were 227,000 new claims filed last week and 74,313 the week before.
A volunteer holds up two heads of lettuce at Mount Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Apopka, Florida, just outside Orlando during the coronavirus pandemic
When the Orlando theme parks shuttered there was a glut of unused food but several weeks later it’s almost all gone, but demand continues to surge
Volunteers load the trunks of vehicles with cartons of eggs, bags of peppers, apples, bananas, pounds of frozen turkey breast, fish, tomatoes, heads of lettuce and cases of water
Volunteers have built a trolley system to roll crates of food toward a loading bay where a volunteer places them in each recipient’s trunk
Volunteers work an assembly line of food boxes to give to the needy at the Apostolic Church-Jesus Christ in Altamonte Springs, Florida
It’s estimated that one in 50 of the state’s residents, and as many as six per cent of those working in surrounding central Florida, are employed by Disney and it resorts. Pictured is an empty lot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
‘Financially, it’s taking its toll, almost everyone I know is out of work,’ a night club worker who lost his job says as he waits in his car at another drive-through food bank at the Apostolic Church-Jesus Christ in Altamonte Springs
Given its reliance on the rapidly-decimated service sector, few cities are more vulnerable that Orlando with its now-dormant theme parks and thousands of shuttered hotels, restaurants and gift shops.
Tourism is worth around $70 billion a year to the city, which attracts upwards of 75 million visitors every year – the most of any US destination.
The majority are headed through the turnstiles at Walt Disney World’s landmark parks, themed hotels, golf course and shopping centers which collectively account for nearly three percent of Florida’s GDP.
It’s estimated that one in 50 of the state’s residents, and as many as six per cent of those working in surrounding central Florida, are employed by Disney and it resorts.
After shutting indefinitely on March 27, the entertainment conglomerate has promised to keep paying 70,000 employees – the largest number of people employed by one company in a single US location – until April 18.
That’s the day the parks were scheduled to reopen but the threat from Coronavirus has spiraled since then and made the plan look hopelessly optimistic.
Workers at SeaWorld Entertainment face an even bleaker future, with the company announcing last Friday that it was furloughing more than 90 percent of its employees on March 31, stripping them of both their income and health insurance in the midst of the global pandemic.
‘The furlough period is uncertain at this time due to the temporary park closures and will be reassessed as business conditions dictate,’ the company said in an SEC filing, without specifying the number of employees or how many of its 12 theme parks would be effected.
‘The Company looks forward to welcoming back its ambassadors and guests when it is safe to open again.’
The combined job losses will likely create a ‘Tsunami of need’ in the next month to six weeks, according to Captain Ken Chapman, a Salvation Army Captain for the Orange and Osceola counties.
‘We are trying to amass the resources we need to be able to take of that when it comes to our doors because we know it’s coming,’ he warns DailyMail.com.
The forecast for Florida as a whole is equally frightening, with coronavirus hot spots rapidly developing in populous urban centers such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Experts are acutely worried about the fate of the state’s vulnerable elderly population, with one in five people aged 65 or above compared to one in six nationally.
Republican governor Ron DeSantis bowed to pressure this week and ordered a state-wide lockdown that comes into force 12:01am Friday, admitting his determination to keep Florida’s tourism–reliant economy running was hopeless.
‘We’re going to be in this for another 30 days,’ DeSantis told reporters. ‘That’s just the reality we’re in.’
As of Thursday morning there had been 7,773 Covid-19 infections and 101 deaths across Florida, with the number of fatalities predicted to peak on May 3.
Even with the lockdown order in place, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that 6,766 will succumb to the virus by August.
Only New York is projected to suffer more losses.
Coupled with the predicted loss of at least 350,000 jobs state-wide, according to the Economic Policy Institute – a number which seems optimistic given Thursday’s figures – it was not surprising that most of those who spoke to DailyMail.com Wednesday were in somber mood.
The Salvation Army Orlando has build a 5,200 square foot outdoor shelter to address the organization’s need for more space during this time of social distancing in Downtown Orlando
This drive-through food bank is just across town from Orlando, Florida’s most iconic theme parks, whose tourism keeps businesses afloat
Coronavirus hot spots are rapidly developing in populous urban centers such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, bringing the state’s commerce to a halt
Stacks of frozen turkey cold cuts are distributed to people in need at Mount Olive Seventh-day Adventist Church and loaded into the back of cars
‘People say if we weren’t here they don’t know what they would do,’ says volunteer Jewel Simmons, speaking in gloves and mask
Families can expect a pre-packed box containing frozen pizzas, 24 eggs, apples, two cans of soup and tomato sauce, a pork joint and six bottles of water
Like several others, Nick Birrie, a 27-year-old nightclub worker who lost his job weeks ago, is beginning to wonder about the immense cost of bringing the economy to a virtual standstill to fight the virus.
‘Financially, it’s taking its toll, almost everyone I know is out of work,’ he says as he waits in his car at another drive-through food bank at the Apostolic Church-Jesus Christ in Altamonte Springs.
‘The way things are going, it’s going to get worse. I hate to say it but a lot of people I know need help already. The bills will keep coming and the problems are just going to pile up.’
The crisis will only become more acute, according to Robert Stuart, an Orlando City Commissioner and Executive Director of the Christian Service Center For Central Florida
At the front of the line Nick can expect a pre-packed box containing frozen pizzas, 24 eggs, apples, two cans of soup and tomato sauce, a pork joint and six bottles of water.
The palates of donated items included two trucks of unused food from Disney and produce from Publix, Winn-Dixie and Fresh Market.
‘People say if we weren’t here they don’t know what they would do,’ says volunteer Jewel Simmons, speaking to use in a hazmat suit, gloves and mask.
‘We even have toilet paper. We don’t turn anybody down, we are here until we run out of supplies.’
In the early weeks of the pandemic Jewel’s church sought protective kit for their team and build a trolley system to roll crates of food toward a loading bay where a volunteer places them in each recipient’s trunk.
The system allowed them to quickly ramp up the operation to run daily from 7am through 5 or 6pm, supplying around 1,000 vehicles while having minimal contact with the occupants.
‘If we have to stop serving due to Coronavirus it will hurt the community very badly,’ Jewel cautions.
‘We heard that there’s a possibility that they will shut us down. We hope there will be a loophole indicating that we can continue serving the community.’
The crisis will only become more acute, according to Robert Stuart, an Orlando City Commissioner and Executive Director of the Christian Service Center For Central Florida.
His organization provides free food for schools, runs a number of soup kitchens and provides emergency support for families struggling to pay their rent, mortgages or for basics such as food, clothes and utilities.
Much of the food they provide comes from donors such as Disney and Universal Orlando Resort, which is also closed until April 19 at the earliest.
The combined job losses will likely create a ‘Tsunami of need’ in the next month to six weeks, according to Captain Ken Chapman, a Salvation Army Captain for the Orange and Osceola counties
The Salvation Army Orlando is bracing for the influx of needy residents in Orlando as all the theme parks have closed
As of Thursday morning there had been 7,773 Covid-19 infections and 101 deaths across Florida, with the number of fatalities predicted to peak on May 3
When the parks shuttered there was a glut of unused food but several weeks later it’s almost all gone. Demand, meanwhile, is surging, Stuart says.
‘When the unemployment numbers go from four percent to 30 percent almost overnight it’s going to have an incredible impact,’ he warns.
‘The service interests industry tends to pay less than professional industry and those people don’t tend to have the resources that you and I may have.
‘I would encourage people, those who can help, please help. You can volunteer at places where it’s completely safe to volunteer. You also can give money and resources.
‘It’s like the Red Cross says, when something happens across the country, their answer is don’t send clothes, send money. Because I can take the money and convert that to the clothes I need.
‘And we’re the same way here. We’re going to have an incredible demand from people on our doorstep. And I don’t want to tell them no.’