Pandemic-related food, housing assistance ‘grim’ in Northeast Florida

Calls to the United Way of Northeast Florida‘s 2-1-1 crisis hotline rose 246 percent from May through September, mostly because of people seeking food and help with rent, mortgage and utility payments to stave off eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff Winkler, the agency’s head of basic needs, tracks those requests for assistance from the United Way and similar requests made to other area nonprofits.

Seven months into the pandemic, the extent of need is “grim” and predicted to remain so into 2021 unless state and federal relief is extended and community support rises, he said.

“People are panicking,” Winkler said on a recent Zoom call with the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida. “There is increasing need for food, lines are still out the door … Evictions are a moving target, one of the sleeping giants of 2021 we’re going to have to face.

“The good news is that we do have time to ramp up our efforts as a community,” he said.


Area nonprofits are looking in all corners for more emergency funding and collaborating to find other solutions.

At Feeding Northeast Florida, the Jacksonville-based regional food bank that supplies food pantries and other assistance agencies, federal funding for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program expires Saturday. Food secured through that U.S. Department of Agriculture program “helped us increase distribution at a time when demand has never been higher,” said President and CEO Susan King.