‘Hunger affects everyone’: Food insecurity on the rise in South Florida

Dulce Francisco, a caregiver for her handicapped son, has been a regular visitor to the Open Heart Pantry for a year, Her caregiving responsibilities prevent her from working, making the pantry support vital. 

“The food bank has been really helpful because I am not able to work,” Francisco said.

Similarly, for the past five months, 57-year-old Uwe Haehnchen and his family of four have found themselves relying on the food bank. Haehnchen works as a janitorial cleaner in the Hollywood area, and said he and other family members, who also have jobs, are faced with the decision of whether to keep a roof over their heads or put dinner on the table. 

“I come every Saturday, it really makes a difference for my family,” Haehnchen said.

Charles, another food pantry client, said he has been coming for about a year. He visits the pantry when he can on Saturday on behalf of his own family and neighbors who are not able to attend. 

“It allows me to share with my neighbors and their families,” said Charles, who declined to provide his full name.

“Hunger affects everyone,” emphasized Kim Johnson, CEO of Florida Impact to End Hunger.

Johnson said that inflation, lower pay, unemployment and health challenges are a few of the causes of food insecurity in Florida. To help counteract it, pantries like Open Heart Pantry are doing their best to provide people with what they need. 

“Food distribution centers are struggling to keep food in their pantries because of the inflation,” Johnson said.

On September 23, 2023, volunteers at the Open Heart Pantry in Hollywood, Fla., packed food for families.

Open Heart Pantry offers a variety of food donated items, including canned goods and produce, to help support families. To help better serve its clients, the pantry keeps track of  them by recording their names, family sizes, ages and zip codes. This helps not only the pantry but their supporters like Feeding South Florida keep track of which areas are most affected and which areas are benefiting the most from the pantry.

Jon Bernardoni, who has served as the community outreach director at the pantry since 2018, became director in 2021. Since he started volunteering, Bernardoni has noticed an increase in those in need.  

“Just this year alone, there was a 40 percent increase of people coming to the pantry from last year,” Bernardoni said. With the rise in need, there has also been an increase in the diversity of the clients. Bernardoni emphasizes that the pantry’s services are open to everyone, regardless of their background.

Johnson, of Florida Impact, also has noticed that individuals who have never experienced food insecurity before are finding themselves struggling now, whether it be from rent hikes or getting fewer hours at work.

“Predominantly, Black and brown communities in Florida are the most affected by food insecurity,” she said, but added that continuing inflation has spread the pain to a variety of different demographic groups in Florida. 

“You have to stay positive,” said Haehnchen, the janitorial cleaner, “and when something negative happens in your life, it becomes a teaching, and you have to take the best out of your situation.”

Kaylin Linder is a senior broadcasting journalism student at Florida International University. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in digital journalism. She has been in love with Journalism since the eighth grade and started to hone in on her love for writing in her freshman year of high school. She enjoys reading and watching anything that deals with true crime because she loves how reporters never forget who the victims were and what they meant to their loved ones. After graduating, Kaylin looks forward to reporting about injustices going on in the United States.