Helping Hands: Dealing With The Economic Toll of COVID-19, Together

The images are overwhelming.

Long lines of vehicles across the country. People patiently waiting for free food because buying groceries is becoming harder or impossible.

The demand on food pantries and organizations that help the hungry is growing in South Florida. Local governments, churches, community leaders and ordinary people are pitching in to help with the many food distribution sites we are seeing each day.

The families inside the vehicles have stories of struggle, stories of newfound financial hardship, stories of already making it with little and now facing next to nothing in the bank.

This week, NBC 6 is taking a look at those rolling up their sleeves to help and at the families who are dealing with the economic toll of COVID-19 at their kitchen tables.

Part I: The Williams Family

One Broward County family is sharing the struggle of making ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.

Shifting through what’s available at food pantries, waiting in long lines at food distribution sites, looking for free sources of food during the pandemic -- it’s an example of a mother’s love in its purest form. 

Monique Williams has two small children. She and her husband, Walter Williams, both work for Broward County schools. She’s a teacher’s assistant, and he works in maintenance. They are still getting paid but they are not going in right now because schools are closed due to the pandemic. 

The extra time at home with their 6-year-old son and 11-month-old daughter has put pressure on their budget. Their grocery bill is at an all-time high. 

“We are not used to spending that much weekly on food,” Monique Williams said. 

Beyond the grocery expenses, their utility bills are up because they are home more. 

Their situation is an example of the economic backlash of COVID-19. With no end to the pandemic in sight, the free food sources are a relief. 

“It’s a big help for our family. We don’t have to take the money for bills and put it toward groceries,” Monique said.

Even though they still have a household income, the family has had to dip into their savings. Monique worries about the future and the potential for job loss in this economic climate. 

“You never know,” she said.

Families who were living paycheck to paycheck are facing newfound hardship all across America. Top that off with anxiety toward an unknown future. For Williams, it’s enough to put her pride aside. 

“I’m taking what my family needs at the moment,” she said.

<< Click here for a full list of food distribution sites in South Florida >>

Social media sites like Facebook can be a tool to find food distributions in your area.

Part II: The Carrivain Family

The financial impact of the pandemic is hitting single mother Sabrina Carrivain hard.

“At the beginning, I was scared of the illness without thinking about how we are going to make it, “ she said.

Over the last few years, "making it" has proved harder and harder. Three years ago, her son Evan was born. Soon she learned she would be a single mother. 

Food distribution and more free sources are the reason why this one mother is able to feed her son.

“As a single mom you pay a lot of things, everything is expensive," she said. 

Those expenses are impossible to keep up with now because she hasn’t worked since March. She’s a professional hairdresser, considered a non-essential worker during this pandemic.

“The stress is a lot," she said. 

Her son’s father is not in his life. Her extended family is in France. She is raising her son completely alone in Miami. She says her money has run out. Food distribution sites are now part of her daily routine. Those sources are helping her keep her son fed.

“There is no more cash at home,” she said.

Food Distributions in South Florida

Part III: The Bravo Family

The financial toll of the coronavirus is hitting low-income families the hardest. These are the people who were already strapped before the pandemic. Job loss, reduced household incomes and other financial hits related to the pandemic have left them with nothing because they had nothing to fall back on. 

This is true for the Bravo family. The free food distributed biweekly by Miami-Dade public schools is a help, but it is not enough. 

They are two months behind on the rent, and that’s not all.

The financial toll of the coronavirus is hitting low-income families the hardest. The Bravo family talks about what they've struggled with since the pandemic started.

“Behind the rent, behind the light, behind the water,” said Freddy Bravo. 

He and his wife Penny Bravo know all about making it with very little. He delivers food, but right now, work is hard to come by. She cleans homes from time to time, but right now her efforts are needed at home. 

“I can’t work now because I watch my grandchildren and my kids. The school's closed,” she said. 

They have a large family. Ten children, three of them under 18, and 13 grandchildren. Their adults kids are barely making it. They have nowhere to turn. 

The health threat of COVID-19 is barely a concern because they are concerned with having enough for their family to eat. 

Part IV: The Helping Hands

From elected officials to volunteers, there are many hands on deck to help feed families in South Florida.

It takes many to feed the growing need for free food in South Florida. The list of families in newfound financial hardship is growing. 

These are people who could once afford groceries but now are finding it difficult or impossible to feed their families. They are spending hours each week in the many food distribution lines. 

“We’re trying to make sure that folks don’t go hungry,” said Florida Sen. José Javier Rodríguez. He talked to NBC 6 as he rolled up his sleeves and pitched in at a food distribution site in South Florida. 

From elected officials to volunteers, there are many hands on deck. The food comes from donations and from organizations that feed the hungry like Farm Share. 

“Our food comes from donations from local farmers, big box stores and the bulk of the food that we have come from the USDA," said Farm Share Community Food Distribution Coordinator Luis Dickson. 

Across South Florida, those who are dealing with all of this daily say the need is growing. The financial impact of COVID-19 is affecting people from almost every demographic. 

Part V: The Izulbaran Family

One city commissioner is making sure a local woman has access to food without compromising her health or her fixed income.

Every Tuesday, Silvia Caridad Izulbaran opens her door to find David Garcia. It’s become a part of her routine. 

Garcia works for the office of Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes. His job title of Community Liaison took on a whole new meaning in response to the pandemic. He delivers food to families who need it.

“I already told him I won’t accept anything if it’s not from them,” Izulbaran said.

The 83-year-old woman is a long-time widow. She never had children, but she has a responsibility. Her 45-year-old niece, who has a disability, is her dependent. She says she needs to stay healthy for her. 

Izulbaran would be putting her life at risk if she walked into a grocery store. She has a nephew who helps sometimes, but the food deliveries from the commissioner's office keep the flow of food in her home. Her fixed income can’t accommodate grocery food delivery charges. 

“I’m just doing what I have to do," Reyes said.

He knows the needs in his community. Much of the population is elderly and low-income. That understanding gave him the foresight to be ahead of the food need. He was one of the first in Miami to host a food distribution. The home deliveries are part of his massive effort to meet the needs of those he serves. 

Missing Attachment
The Miami-Dade School District knows financial hardship is making it difficult for many parents to put food on the table. So educators are rolling up their sleeves and taking on duties beyond their job descriptions. NBC 6's Stephanie Bertini reports.
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