NORTH PORT — This could be a long summer.
And judging by a food giveaway Friday in North Port, it has started.
A small army of Awaken Church pantry drive-thru volunteers on Pan American Boulevard loaded hundreds of food boxes into SUVs, cars and trucks lining the street.
That food would reach some 600 working poor, low-income seniors and others. Friday giveaway numbers are rising since March when the pantry opened. The figures are estimates based on cars going through the line.
Other churches, pantries and nonprofits report the same thing: Demand is rising, said Larry Grant, outreach director for Awaken Church, where pantry volunteers on Fridays load hundreds of banana boxes of fruit, veggies and nonperishables.
But with Florida’s federal unemployment stipend ending Saturday, and with a temporary extension on rental evictions, food giveaways and related services are likely to jump, said Grant.
“It’s a downward spiral, unfortunately,” he said of those deemed food insecure, lacking cash or access to affordable food.
What’s happening in North Port is going on nationally, according to advocacy organizations. Feeding America, for instance, projects that 42 million people, including 13 million kids, could experience food insecurity this year. COVID-19 is named as a culprit, as millions lost work, were sickened or experienced death within their circles.
The pandemic also prompted a moratorium on evictions, as average monthly rents in North Port have crept past $1,300. That restriction ends on July 31, meaning low- or fixed-income people could get shoved over the edge.
That has places such as Awaken Church stepping forward, Grant and others insisted. Church outreach offices will expand to include social programs and health counseling. And volunteers will gear up for back-to-school and holiday needs, he added.
Silvia Owley and her husband Roger assembled giveaway boxes Friday at the Awaken Church pantry. Recently moved to North Port from Las Vegas, the couple “want to help out,” she said. “Everybody should know what (food insecurity) is like ... see it, step out their comfort zones.”
The Awaken Church food pantry is at 4940 Pan American Blvd. Pantry drive-thru hours are 10 a.m.-noon Fridays. Office hours and other details are at myawaken.church, 941-200-5400.