So many people lined up for disaster food assistance that Broward sites had to close

Long lines and heavy turnout for a Hurricane Irma disaster food assistance program forced all three application sites in Broward County to close late Friday morning, after demand overwhelmed the sites’ capacity to process applications, authorities said.

The sites for the Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program — including Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines and Quiet Waters Parks and Recreation in Deerfield Beach — began closing to further attendees shortly before noon, Broward Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said. All three sites will reopen Saturday at 7 a.m.

“There are a lot of recipients who are coming out,” Coleman-Wright said, adding that the parks had reached full capacity. “Instead of people coming in and being turned away, we’re trying to get the word out” to return tomorrow.

The Department of Children and Families program, also known as the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, offers food benefits in 48 counties to households that sustained disaster-related losses and qualify under the program’s income limits. Activated in response to Hurricane Irma last month, the program gives successful applicants EBT cards with funds that activate within two to three days so they can buy groceries for the upcoming month.

The program has been in overwhelming demand in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where thousands of people have lined up to wait for several hours since the state agency opened sign-up sites Oct. 11. One of the Broward sign-up sites had to intermittently close and open to accommodate the park’s capacity Thursday, according to Pembroke Pines police, and on Friday caused gridlock so heavy that officers warned other drivers to avoid the area.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the three sites in Broward saw more than 26,000 applications, said Paige Patterson-Hughes, the DCF communications director for the county. In Miami-Dade, more than 28,600 applications were approved on Thursday alone, according to local DCF spokeswoman Beatriz Lopez.

Some people started lining up for assistance overnight as early as 2 a.m., Lopez added, though she said lines were flowing quickly once people reached the application tents.

Patterson-Hughes said DCF planned to finish applications for everyone still at the sites Friday, and encouraged would-be recipients to return Saturday and Sunday. “We will accommodate everyone who gets inside the park,” she said.

Patterson-Hughes declined to say if the sites would have additional staffing during the weekend, but said the agency can shift people internally from site to site to accommodate variations in turnout.

In person registration in both counties runs through Oct. 15, though people can also pre-register for the program online.

▪ In Miami-Dade, the program will be available at Tropical Park (7900 SW 40th St.), Miami Dade College North Campus (11380 NW 27th Ave.), South Dade Government Center (10710 SW 211th St.) and Amelia Earhart Park (451 E. 56th St. in Hialeah) every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Sunday, Oct. 15.

▪ Broward locations, including Central Broward Regional Park (3801W. Sunrise Blvd., Lauderhill, C.B. Smith Park (900 N Flamingo Rd, Pembroke Pines) and Quiet Waters Parks and Recreation (401 S. Powerline Rd., Deerfield Beach), will also be open from Oct. 11 to Oct. 15. They will accept in-person sign ups each day based on last names, with a makeup day on Sunday.