More Floridians are relying on food stamps & food pantries

1 in 6 Floridians are now on food stamp assistance

BOCA RATON, Fla. - It could be someone you know. It might even be you.  What it is indicates a very distressing sign of our economy.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture one in six Floridians relies on food stamps to put food on the table. However, as local food pantries can attest, even food stamps are not enough for many needy families.

Thirty minutes before Boca Helping Hands opens, people line up outside the building. This food pantry and soup kitchen serves about 150 people a day and more at the end of the month when food stamps start to run out.  "Maria," a full time mom with two small children, is one of them.

"You would never think you would get to this point where you would seek assistance," she said.

Maria's husband is in sales. Eating at the soup kitchen and getting groceries from Boca Helping Hands is how her family makes ends meet.

"It's very hard," she said.  "We're really based on commissions so it's a roller coaster. One week we'll get paid. Another week, no income. It's very unstable.  So we're really standing and walking in faith."

Even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture says a record 3.1 million Floridians are on food stamps, many people are still relying on food pantries to close the gap.

"When the formula for food stamps was created, the average American spent 20% of their income on housing," explained James Gavrilos, the executive director of Boca Helping Hands.

"Today's it's something like 40% or 50%. The game has changed and you have more people who are not able to provide enough food."

Last November, Boca Helping Hands passed out 720 bags of groceries to local families. This November, they passed out 2,751. Their hot meal program has also seen a big increase.

"A year ago in November, I think we served about 2,700 hot meals," said Gavrilos. "This previous November, 2011, we served 4,300.  My point here is this.  Even with the food stamps, there are just people who cannot afford to put food on the table."

People who don't need the services of a food pantry like Boca Helping Hands can consider themselves fortunate; however, there's something else they can do. While no one can help everyone, everyone can help someone.

"Are you having a party this week? Are you having a New Year's Eve party next week? Charge your guests," said Gavrilos. "Tell everybody they have to bring a case of green beans or some soup."

Gavrilos also suggested thinking about alternative gifts. If you're looking for a host or hostess present, consider making a donation in that person's name to a food pantry or other favorite charity. Gavrilos said it's not only a long lasting gift, but also one that will bring awareness to the concerns of our community.

Boca Helping Hands operates a food pantry, soup kitchen and job mentoring problem. To learn more about this non-profit agency, go to