Residents line up for Farm Share event
A first-come, first-served drive-thru food distribution held at Lehigh Senior High School earlier this month drew such a heavy response that it surpassed the supplies.
Lehigh residents began to line up early outside the school for the free Farm Share event and, within a couple of hours, the need was clear: truck loads of supplies quickly disappeared.
The May 15 distribution was hosted by State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and State Rep. Spencer Roach. Members of the East Lee County Chamber of Commerce (formerly the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce), Lehigh Community Services and the Salvation Army were on hand to help distribute the food to the many families who showed up.
According to Michael Welch, chairman of the East Lee County Chamber of Commerce, lines quickly formed early on in the event even without heavy media outreach.
“We basically used the chamber’s website and emails, local churches and organizations to help get the word out to the community. Cars lined up out of the school and into the roads, literally jamming up Buckingham Road and Gunnery Road. Within two hours we had ran out of food. It was heartbreaking to see that there were a couple hundred more people that were trying to get into the Lehigh Senior campus,” Welch stated.
Farm Share brought trucks-full of food that normally would have been sufficient, but the loss of service jobs and company shut-downs due to COVID-19 has hit the area hard.
“It’s tragic that a lot of people in Lehigh Acres don’t know where their next meals will come from. Many members of our community work in service-based jobs and they are the ones who have been laid off for more than two months,” Welch said.
Welch, as well as Roach, feel that the faulty unemployment benefits system is playing a big role in resident’s hardship.
“Rep. Roach is a champion in the cause of trying to make sure these people get their checks from unemployment. Filing for unemployment in Florida and other states is still problematic for some people and these are the people who don’t have a few hundred dollars or more in reserves,” Welch explained.
According to Welch, senators Benacquisto and Kathleen Passidomo are already working with Farm Share to set up another free food distribution in Lehigh Acres as soon as next month.
“This first event was quite an effort, but one of the best events I’ve seen in years. The chamber is also working with Harry Chapin and the Salvation Army who has their canteen truck on site to help residents with other sorts of needs,” Welch said.
Another plan currently in motion to help small businesses is coming from Lee County government said Welch.
“The Lee County Commissioners are putting a program together that will help get $5,000 grants to the small businesses here to use for utilities and rents. So far many of the landlords who own the buildings and plazas locally seem to be doing their part and working with tenants to help keep them open.”
The East Lee County Chamber of Commerce (formerly the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce) is also working with businesses to acquire the proper Personal Protective Gear required by the CDC.
“We are helping companies who need to apply for PPE to look over their applications and make sure their correct. This PPE gear is necessary so that they are prepared and ready for business when they open,” Welch said.
For more information on the East Lee County Chamber of Commerce visit elccoc.org/ or call 239-369-3322.