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Palm Beach County has only spent $9 million of $35 million earmarked for emergency food

$35 million from CARES Act sent to county in April
Farmers to Families boxes for food drive
Posted at 4:29 PM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 23:30:13-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — At the corner of Eighth Street and Douglas Avenue in West Palm Beach, need and hunger collide.

"There are a lot of people who don't have (food), and when they get that box of food, it's like, 'I got a little something,'" Stephanie Sears told Contact 5. "We're just doing what God put us here to do, help each other."

Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner watched as Peaceful Zion Missionary Baptist Church gave out 120 boxes of food at a recent food drive. The boxes come from the USDA Farmers to Families program.

Contact 5 found Palm Beach County has only spent $9 million of the $35 million it received in April for emergency food distribution from the CARES Act.

As Buczyner watched the food drive, the need was blatantly apparent. More than once, his interview with Plante paused as those in need asked for food.

"A lot of people are looking for canned goods, fresh food, meat, milk, cereal," one man told Contact 5. "People have no money to buy the bare necessities."

man packing Farmers to Families food boxes into vehicles
A volunteer packs food boxes into vehicles during a recent food drive at Peaceful Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

"There are some kids who are not going to eat unless they can come here and get something to eat," Sears said.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss said he's understands there is a need throughout the county.

When asked why the county had only spent $9 million of the $35 million for emergency food distribution, Weiss said, "Can we always do better? Of course we can do better. But we also need to make sure that we have the money come the fall."

RELATED: CARES Act funds sent to Palm Beach County still not distributed | Palm Beach County officials respond why millions in CARES Act money yet to be distributed | Palm Beach County now has a contact tracing app. How many people need to use it for it to be effective?

Weiss told Contact 5 the money provides 150,000 pounds of food a week, assisting the school district, seniors and a baby formula program.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss defends spending of CARES Act money
"Can we always do better? Of course we can do better," Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss says. "But we also need to make sure that we have the money come the fall."

Maura Plante works with Living Hungry and has fed thousands of families during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Sitting on dollars when we have very hungry people, it's a challenge," Plante remarked.

When asked if the county was distributing the money fast enough, Sears quickly responded, "I would say no, I would have to say no. I don't see it. Not when you have people trying to scrounge around to find food."

Weiss said the CARES Act funds Palm Beach County received will also support a new $5 million program targeting families in need.

Thankful woman walks away with food after food drive
A thankful woman walks away with food after being fed by Stephanie Sears and Peaceful Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

"This new prepaid card program is going to put the decision-making in the hands of people who need it, so they'll be able to choose what they want at the grocery store," Weiss explained. "The purchases will be limited to food in the same way SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is."

Back at the corner of Eighth Street and Douglas Avenue, Sears will continue to help, as long as there's food to give.

"I'm up here every Thursday, so just come by any Thursday," Sears said.

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