Florida's 24th congressional district-- northern Miami-Dade and southern Broward counties (Liberty City, Little Haiti, Miami Gardens, Opa-Locka, North Miami, Pembroke Park)-- is one of the bluest districts in the state, with a PVI of D+34. Trump scored 15% in 2016 and 24% in 2020. Republicans don't run serious campaigns in the district. This has made long-time incumbent Frederica Wilson uncomfortably unaccountable. She had no opponent at all in 2018 and last year was reelected with over 75% of the vote (her lowest margin of victory ever). Many of her constituents feel they should be represented by a more effective-- less senile-- advocate for a district where a quarter of the residents are living below the poverty rate and almost 30% live on food stamps.
This year, Blue America has decided to back a progressive primary challenger to Wilson, Christine Olivo, a former youth educator and a mother of two who currently serves as the Democratic Committeewoman for the district. Olivo was nominated as one of South Florida’s most prominent and influential Black women by Legacy magazine. We know her as a tireless advocate for social justice who would make a much better representative for FL-24 than Wilson has been. More than just the "fresh blood" so needed in the district, Olivo is a volunteer with a food distribution non-profit, getting a very on-the-ground, immersive feel for what people in this district need and want. I asked her to introduce herself by writing a guest post about food insecurity in her district. If you'd like help get her elected to Congress, please consider clicking on the 2022 Blue America congressional thermometer above and donating what you can to her very grassroots campaign.
South Florida's Growing Food Crisis
-by Christine Olivo
congressional candidate (FL-24)
Growing up in Miami, everyone was a Dolphins fan. It did not matter that they were always losing, the loyalty was real. I used to see lines wrapped around the stadium with people excited to go watch them play. They were the longest lines I had ever seen in my life. Well at least they used to be until about June of 2020. For the past 15 years, my church has given food out to the community through our food pantry program. I knew that Covid was on the rise in South Florida and I was sure that the pantry was going to need help feeding the extra people lined up for food. I did not call before going because I was positive that they would need the help. When I got to the church, I was shocked. There was no line whatsoever. There was only a sign on my church’s door that read “The Pantry is closed until further notice”. The note also had a list of places for people to go and find food in the meantime. When I spoke with my Pastor, he explained that they had run out of food. This has never happened before. Unfortunately, they had no choice but to stop the food pantry program. I looked at the list of alternative places that the church had sent everyone to. I decided to drive to the closest one. When I arrived, the police had closed the streets for about 4 or 5 blocks. There were so many cars lined up I thought it was at a Dolphin game. I parked down the street and walked over to the volunteers handing out the food. I asked if I could volunteer to help fill the trunks and I have been serving there ever since.
Food insecurity is a growing crisis in South Florida. Sadly, I have not been able to decipher whether this crisis was a result of covid or if covid exposed a crisis that had been there all along. Either way, we have a serious problem. In our district alone, there are 13-15 food distributions at various sites throughout the week. Each distribution site feeds anywhere from 300-1500 people. That’s a lot of hungry people. Many of the residents that I had the pleasure of speaking with explained the reasons for their food desperation. One woman, Marie Joseph, explained that her husband lost his job due to covid. Any money that they had saved up was being used to pay bills. Their daughter and their grandchildren lived in the house with them and buying fast food was no longer an option. They needed the groceries, they could not survive without it. I met another family that actually goes to two food distributions a week because they have 10 people living together in their house. However, they mentioned that they had been attending these drives long before covid came along. They also pointed out that when they used to come before covid, the lines were much shorter. This observation is very concerning to me. Due to the fact that I am not an expert in this field, I decided to do some research and found some disturbing facts.
According to the Feeding South Florida website, all it takes is “one bad month” to put a family in a dire food crisis. This pandemic has produced almost a year of bad months for these struggling families. The unemployment rate was as high as 13.8% at one point. Parents were now obligated to stay home with their children because schools were closed. This created an additional strain on families because children are given two meals a day at school. With children being at home, parents had to figure out how to provide the extra meals for them to eat. In addition to children and families, the elderly have had a difficult time accessing food as well. The food distribution site that I volunteer with, delivers between 45-70 boxes of groceries to the elderly every Saturday and it is still not enough. We get requests that we cannot fill.
There are multiple organizations that have stepped up to help feed our community such as Feeding South Florida and Farmers to Families. A number of churches and nonprofits have stepped up as well to keep the food distribution’s operating successfully. Although these food distribution sites are much needed to address the immediate food crisis, there are no discussions being had to address a permanent solution. We must start this conversation immediately, especially considering the additional food stamp provisions are set to expire this month.Our elected officials are missing the opportunity to focus on a universal problem that would relieve a hidden stress amongst their constituents. Many have already died from lack of healthcare. Many have already died from isolation. Many more will die from malnourishment if we do not address the severity of food insecurity. This might sound crazy, but I am grateful that this pandemic brought an issue to light that many have been enduring in the dark. Now that we know there is a need, it is our duty to step up as leaders and fulfill it.