By Ted Scouten

LITTLE HAVANA (CBSMiami) – Patience paid off Wednesday for people who waited in line for the annual Latin American Chamber of Commerce holiday food basket giveaway.

It is a holiday tradition in Little Havana that starts with the voucher giveaway, which will later be turned in for a bountiful basket of food.

CAMACOL started the tradition of handing out Christmas dinner for families 34 years ago.

“It started with just a few people in Little Havana,” said Patty Arias with CAMACOL. “The founding president of Camacol said, ‘hey, why on Christmas we don’t get our corporate members to give out pork shoulders because there’s a really big need in the community’.”

Before dawn, the line of people bundled up waiting for their turn to get a voucher stretched for three blocks outside the CAMACOL Tower located at 1401 W. Flagler Street.

There are 3,000 vouchers and they will be handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Those with vouchers will then claim their holiday basket on Wednesday, December 18 starting at 7 a.m.

Juanita Alvarez was first in line.

“Tell me,” asked CBS 4’s Ted Scouten, “when did you get here?”

“Well today is Wednesday we got here like Monday,” said Alvarez. “Monday morning we started. It was like a couple of us, four of us then 25 got together.”

Alvarez and the others stayed in their cars because they were not allowed to line up until a few hours before the door opened.

Alvarez said waiting in line for her food basket voucher has become a tradition.

“Fourteen years, I’m so proud of myself for doing this,” said Juanita Alvarez.

Alvarez thanked Miami police and her neighbors for their efforts.

“It was nice, they had everything under control. So now, soon, I’ll be getting the ticket and that’s real grateful for me because the Latin Chamber of Commerce is doing a great job, you know, to keep us together here, to join everybody be together. It’s been three days since I’ve been here with my neighbors, they’ve been helping me, they’ve been giving us coffee, they’ve been giving us toast, and December the 18th we are going to get our Christmas basket,” she said.

Carmen Torres has come for the past eight years.

“They give you two bags, you know, and they go around and give you milk, cheese, everything. It’s beautiful and then they give you pork,” she said.

This year, as in previous years, the basket will be filled with a complete “Latin-styled” Holiday dinner including rice, beans, yucca, bread, soda, a pork shoulder, spices, sugar, milk, and other essential items. There’s enough food for about 10 people to enjoy a traditional “Noche Buena” meal.

“After I get the basket,” explained Marilin, “I send them a thank you email because they don‘t have to do this. They do it because they chose to. We have to be grateful for that. Not everybody has money to buy food.”

In addition to providing for those who are experiencing hardships this holiday season, the food drive also serves to unify the community as basket items come from donations provided by different sponsors.

Ted Scouten