LITTLE HAVANA (CBS4) – Hundreds of South Floridians lined up before dawn in Little Havana for a chance to feed their families this holiday.
As part of the Latin Chamber of Commerce’s annual holiday basket giveaway, representatives from the organization handed out food vouchers on Flagler Street between 14th and 15th Avenues in Little Havana.
Some people began to line up last Friday. Many of those who waited in line for hours were either unemployed or they live on a fixed income and can’t afford any extras.
“It’s very, very hard,” said Mosas Hernandez. “We need something free because right now, I lost my job, I need to pay my rent, so believe me it’s very hard.”
By mid-morning, thousands waited in a line which wrapped around the block outside the voucher distribution location. Concerned about safety, the City of Miami Police Department was in attendance to keep order and look after the sick and elderly.
Those who received a voucher Wednesday will return on December 14th and exchange it for bags of food.
Each voucher can be redeemed for five bags of groceries worth $120. They are filled with pork, rice, beans, milk, bread and other delicious items which are often used in a traditional Noche Buena dinner.
This is the 26th year the Latin American Chamber of Commerce has given Christmas food away. It began with a holiday gift bag for just ten families. The organization now provides families with food bags, truckloads of food that are donated by several companies
Mario Gutierrez is the Chamber’s President. “This year was a little more difficult.”
In all his years doing this, Gutierrez said he has rarely seen the demand so high, the need so great.
“It was tough to get donations?” asked CBS4’s Stephen Stock.
“It was tough for everybody. Tough for everybody,” Guitierrez told him.
Perhaps no one symbolized the change in economic fortunes more than Angela Llamas who, with her friends and family, stood in line for more than 24 hours.
“Who wants to be here? Not me. It’s just tough,” said Llamas, who said the food vouchers are a necessity for her family who are all out of work and out of luck. “This is actually the first year this has happened. Usually my mom comes and we give it other people who really need it. But now we’re the ones who need it the most. It sucks really bad.”
The Chamber finished giving away all 3,000 vouchers in two hours. Even so, the line of people continued to snake around the block leading organizers to conclude they could have given away twice as many vouchers this year, because the need is that great.