Southwest Floridians finding themselves poorer despite working harder

Posted at 12:17 AM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 00:18:00-05

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Shyqamayisha Vasquez and her husband Christopher both work.

Yet they still find it hard to consistently made ends meet as they raise their three children.

"They come to me and say 'Mommy, I'm hungry,'" says Vasquez.

And she knows her family is not alone.

"Some people go the pantries," she says.

"I do," she adds, "I'm not ashamed at all."

"We know we've seen increases in food insecurity particularly here in Southwest Florida," says Tom Felke who's a professor of Social Work at Florida Gulf Coast University.

"A lot of individuals, particularly those living in poverty, have to make a decision about what are their priorities in their everyday living," says Felke.

He says many families are finding themselves making hard choices about which bills they should pay since they can't pay all of them anymore.

"And very often times when individuals are forced to make that decision, the trade-off is with food," says Felke.

"That's why we're seeing an increase in the number of individuals availing themselves of what's available at food banks and food pantries."

Randalynn and Fritz Cloege, who volunteer at the Harry Chapin Foodbank say they've seen changes in who shows up - and what they say- at the food bank's mobile food pantries.

"They'd say 'you know what, I have donated to Harry Chapin Foodbank for 12 years, Never in my life did I think I would be a recipient,'" says Randalynn.

"'But I've lost my job and I need feed my family.'

Felke says the Covid 19 crisis has been a setback for many families who were struggling long before March of 2020.

"What the pandemic has shown is the fragility are just above the federal poverty line," says Felke.

He also says there's often a misconception about what it means to be poor in Southwest Florida.

"A lot of people think poverty goes hand in hand with receipt of government benefits - specifically something like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - what we used to call Food Stamps," says Felke.

"And what you actually find is that more individuals who are on SNAP are actually above the federal poverty line than below it."

"So we actually have a high percentage of individuals in Southwest Florida who fall into that designation that we would call 'working poor,'" says Felke.

"And those individuals who have seen the greatest impact financially and economically from the Covid 19 pandemic."