by: Jason Kelly Updated:
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - Thousands of people who had to throw away spoiled food after Hurricane Irma slammed Central Florida filled the Cocoa Expo Sports Center Wednesday seeking financial assistance.
More than 20,000 people have visited the site since Saturday to apply for the Food for Florida program, which helps residents who aren't on food stamps but whose homes were damaged by the storm.
Wednesday was the final day to apply in person in Brevard County. Doors were supposed to close at 6 p.m., but by 4 p.m., officials had to close the gates due to concerns about traffic backups and safety.
UPDATE: DCF says it will close the gates at Cocoa Expo Center at 4 p.m. because of concerns about traffic & safety at SNAP event #WFTV— Michael Lopardi (@MLopardiWFTV) October 11, 2017
5 p.m. update: DCF estimates at least 1,000 people are still in line at Brevard disaster SNAP event. Gates were closed two hours early #WFTV— Michael Lopardi (@MLopardiWFTV) October 11, 2017
Anyone who couldn't apply may attend the Orange and Seminole county sign ups.
Hurricane relief services in Osceola County have also seen thousands of people show up looking for assistance.
In the past five days, more than 30,000 people have been serviced by hundreds of workers.
As of 10 p.m., there were still people in line for the Supplemental Assistance Program.
The Florida Department of Children and Families said the average wait lasts about one hour.
By 3 p.m., the line reached out the door in Brevard County.
“This has been what we have seen at prior sites throughout the region. Every day gets a little busier. The last day is always the busiest day,” said Kristi Gray of the Department of Children and Families.
The state tried to ease the crunch by telling Orange County residents to wait for their own registration event later this month. Now, people who could not make it by 4 p.m. will have to do the same.
The next local events in Orange and Seminole counties are more than a week away.
“That will reduce wait times in our line today so we can get people through who need assistance quicker,” said Gray.
The amount of money received is based on household income, family size and the cost of storm-related damage.
Jennifer Soper, a single mother who lives in Brevard County's Viera development, said the $1,200 of benefits that she received Tuesday will help her feed her family for the next two months.
"I had a lot of damage to my house, which cost a lot of money that I didn't have, so having this extra help is huge for my family," Soper said. "I'm really grateful for this. It's really going to help."
Ansonia Vefa, a single mother from Titusville, said that she waited two hours in traffic and 45 minutes in line Wednesday.
"It's definitely going to help put food on the table for me and my children," Vefa said.
Those interested in applying for benefits are asked to preregister online and to bring proof of residency. Applicants who have savings could be denied assistance.
Residents in 48 counties that were declared disaster zones after the storm could qualify for benefits. Click here to apply for assistance.
© 2017 Cox Media Group.
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