Thousands expected to sign up for food assistance in Orange, Seminole counties

Irma victims can get help at Camping World Stadium, Orlando Live Events

By Brianna Volz - Web producer, Cathleigh Winningham - Producer

ORLANDO, Fla. - An Orange County center distributing food stamps to Hurricane Irma victims in Central Florida was operating much smoother Sunday after receiving such a large crowd Saturday that officials were forced to close the site early, the Department of Children and Families said.

Orange County families who signed up to receive help through the Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program were able to start receiving those benefits once Camping World Stadium's doors opened Saturday.

A day seemed to make a large difference in the way the center operated. Residents told News 6 Sunday afternoon that the line, which wrapped all the way around the stadium, was moving much faster than it had Saturday.

Those waiting in line were trying to make the best of the long day.

Will Williams said he pretended he was waiting in line at an amusement park to help make the line seem more bearable.

"It's like an amusement park, they got that queue line, you got to go through it. So, I was making fun of the lines saying listen, we're waiting in the line to go on Disney or Universal rides, but the only difference is, you get money," Williams said.

Others, who knew what to expect of the line, used the time to make some money.

"I was out here yesterday waiting for 10 hours and it was so hot and barely anybody came out here to sell until the end of the day, so I felt it was my duty to go out and sell some water and make people hydrated," Jenn Arroyo, who decided to sell the bottles after waiting in line the day before, said.

Brittany Brown, who was also at the stadium on the center's opening day, said Sunday was much more organized.

Brown said Saturday was so hectic that people were fighting each other. She thinks wrapping guests around the building Sunday made a difference.

Just after 9 a.m. Saturday, two hours after the center's door opened for the first time, officials told News 6 that parking lots were completely full and residents who were not already in line at that time could not receive benefits Saturday.

Officials were asking people to go home until further notice or come back on a different day. Those already in line when the announcement to close early was made would receive benefits that day, officials said.

Crowds of people could be seen around the stadium and traffic was backed up to State Road 408 just 45 minutes after operations began.

Officials said they would re-evaluate the situation at 2 p.m. to decide whether they would allow more people to wait in line Saturday.

Orange County residents can receive assistance at Camping World Stadium Saturday through Wednesday. Residents with last names beginning with the letters A-F were invited to show up Saturday.

Seminole County residents were able to sign up for benefits at Orlando Live Events on U.S. Highway 17-92 in Casselberry starting Saturday.

Traffic filled the parking lot and was already spilling into a shopping center next door within hours of the site's opening.

Nearby business owners were upset over residents using their lots for parking.

Charlotte Kitz, the owner of Hair Handlers, told News 6 she was not notified about the parking situation for the relief program until six hours before it opened.

"It's a wonderful thing that they're doing this, but it's really very dysfunctional and I don't think that it was organized very well," Kitz said.

Kitz said her employees spent the morning scrambling with buckets to save spots for their customers. She said that in addition to the negative financial effect it had on businesses, the cluster of vehicles in the parking lot was also a safety hazard.

"If we have an emergency, there is no way they can get back here," Kitz said. "We're trapped."

The government program distributes food stamps to help people recovering from Hurricane Irma. The assistance is based on income and the cost of damage. 

Get full details here.

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