ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Volunteers spent Saturday morning handing out free meals to more than 500 families who are struggling to make ends meet months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of cars lined up outside the Willow Street Community Center in Zellwood hours before volunteers passed out bags of food and water.
Lamar Smith, the president of Link Up Central Florida, said that's a sign there is still a need to help families during the coronavirus pandemic.
"These are desperate times and to be able to provide for so many families during this pandemic, it really does something to me," Smith said.
Saturday's food distribution marked the fifth event put on by State Senator Randolph Bracy's office. It was held in partnership with Farm Share, Feed the Need Florida, and Careplus.
Charlean Gatlin, his district senior legislative assistant, said his office has helped more than 3,000 families since April.
"Senator Bracy wanted to make sure that in this time where a lot of people are hurting financially due to COVID, the one thing they don't have to worry about is putting food on their tables," Gatlin said.
According to unemployment numbers released by the federal government this week, 1.5 million people filed for unemployment benefits. Florida reported more than 86,000 new claims, but that is down by more than 112,000 new claims from the week before.
This comes as the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Central Florida. Orange County is offering free testing in Zellwood and Apopka starting on Monday.
Families picking up free meals said they are thankful for this help and called it a blessing.
"It means we'll be able to eat and we thank God for it," one woman said.
Smith said Bracy's office and the partners behind the food distribution event will continue to help for as long as the need is there.
"This gets families through these tough weeks, tough months ahead," Smith said.
Bracy’s office said they have additional food distribution events planned over the next couple of months.