HARLEM HEIGHTS, Fla. (AP) – The Gladiolus Food Pantry usually hands out supplies to about 240 families on Wednesdays, so when Hurricane Ian hit that day and canceled their distribution, it remained full of flats of canned black beans, sacks full of rice, meat, bread and produce. – food that helps families struggling with rising rents and inflation make ends meet.
By the weekend, much of that food was in the trash, the floors were still wet and muddy from the water that had filled the room, and the pantry founder and director Miriam Ortiz was concerned about what would become of her neighborhood. happen as she worked to get the pantry she started nine years ago back on track.
“Right now I don’t know what we’re going to do because we’re going to need food, we’re going to need water, we’re going to need everything,” she said. “We got flooded and the water came all over the building.”
Ortiz said the green food pantry building is the heart of the Harlem Heights neighborhood, a small, mostly Hispanic community of nearly 2,000 people near Fort Myers that was ravaged by the Category 4 hurricane. roofing was scribbled torn loose, advertised free food, diapers, wipes, body wash and toothpaste.
The wind, rain and storm surge that accompany hurricanes affect everyone in their path. But those combined effects often spell disaster for poor people who live their day-to-day lives, such as many in Harlem Heights, where the median income is just under $26,000, according to US Census data.
Many are timekeepers with little savings for things like hotel stays for evacuation or money to bridge them until their workplaces reopen. In a tough tourist economy like South Florida’s, the wait for hotels to reopen and the return of visitors — along with the jobs they bring — can be long and painful.
Ortiz said many of the customers she saw each week before the hurricane were already hurting from the skyrocketing cost of food and housing. Rising rents forced many young adults living on their own to move back in with their parents and grandparents, she said.
Over the weekend, cars and trucks whizzed down the neighborhood’s main road, which was dry and swept free of tree branches and palm fronds. That wasn’t the case on many side streets, many of which were still flooded as residents dragged soggy furniture to the curb.
In Maria Galindo’s apartment, the water had risen to about waist height and the wind had torn part of her roof, while she and her 9-year-old daughter Gloria were terrified inside. Her daughter said she kept thinking during the storm that she wanted to return to her native Guatemala.
“We didn’t know where to go, what to grab on to, here or there because of the rain, the wind, the water. … It was very difficult,” Maria Galindo said in Spanish.
They and their neighbors tried to save what they could and push the water out of their sodden apartments. Wet clothes hung on a clothesline outside, while inside a thin seam between the wall and the ceiling showed where the roof had been lifted.
Galindo works as a housekeeper at a local hotel, but it is closed until further notice. She worries about her family and her daughter and wonders how she will make ends meet.
“We don’t have a roof over our heads. We need food. We need money to buy things,” she said. “We need help.”
Back at the food supply, people had been delivering food, cleaning supplies and clothing all day Saturday, and a volunteer had set up a tent and cooked food for the people.
One of those who came by to deliver supplies was a frustrated Lisa Bertaux, who came with her boyfriend. She checked the items people needed: toothbrushes, deodorant, cleaning supplies, paper towels, children’s clothes, and wipes. And the list went on and on.
“There is so much needed here. … Very little food is coming in so far. There is a great need,” she said. “It’s time for us to rebuild our community.”
One of those who came to pick up things was Keyondra Smith, who lives in an apartment complex down the street with her three children. She had parked her car in a different spot so she wouldn’t lose it when the water ran through it. Her neighbors weren’t so lucky, because during the worst flooding, cars drifted across the parking lot and the people who lived on the first floor – she is on the second – were completely submerged.
Smith had driven past the food supply when she noticed there were supplies, so she stopped to pick up some toilet paper, water, and hot plates of food. Before that, her family ate canned ravioli, Viennese sausages and snacks from a local supermarket.
“We have no water. My food goes bad in the fridge,” she said. While she can drive to the few stores that are open, she said they only take cash and many of the ATMs don’t work. “I have three kids, so I need to have some stuff to feed them.”
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