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Thousands Show Up For Post-Hurricane Irma Help

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Thousands of people in need of emergency food assistance two months after Hurricane Irma lined up before dawn for their last chance to apply and the lines continued throughout the day.

Tens of thousands are expected at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens and the BB&T Center in Sunrise over the next few days to apply for the "Food for Florida" federal disaster program.

"Traffic was a mess, that was a mess," said Aldena Evans.

Despite early morning gridlock getting into the stadium, Evans says the process for her went smoothly.

"Very good, very quick," she said.

By the afternoon, the lines had dwindled dramatically.

Last month, throngs of people lined up at several locations in both counties requesting assistance.  One site had to be shut down because of public safety concerns when the hot weather got to be too much for those standing in line.  Another one was shut down because it was at capacity.

"You learn every time you do this, you're dealing with large crowds you learn something," said Bronwyn Standford, Regional Managing Director of the Department of Children and Family Services."

DCF is one of the organizers behind the relief program. Stanford said this time they decided on a mega-sites which are better equipped to handle the massive crowds, where at least part of the process would indoors.

"DCF has, before this and before any of our extensions, has already distributed $1.2 billion to recipients," said Stanford.

To avoid too many people showing up at once, DCF is taking applicants based on the first letter of their last name on specific dates.  On Tuesday, November 7th, letters A-F; Wednesday, November 8th, G-P; Thursday, November 9th, letters Q-Z.

The sites will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m daily.

At the BB&T Center, Zolya Dissoni waited patiently in line. She said she didn't know what she would be eligible for but she would take anything.

"If you do qualify, if say you're applying for a family of four, you'll get about $650 dollars for 2 months so it will be $1,300 to assist your family," said DCF spokeswoman Paige Patterson-Hughes.

Clariann Calderon first attempted to get help last month when the program had a site at Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach

"It was horrible, the lines were really bad, there was people passing out. I was even catching, running out of breath. So I skipped the line and went home because they were even saying they were going to close. There were cars, and people, and no line control," she said.

DCF said those planning to apply for aid should preregister here. DCF says 150,000 have preregistered in Miami-Dade to apply for benefits. The DCF rep in Broward didn't know how many people had preregistered in Broward.

DCF says the requirements include having suffered a loss of food or power, damage to the home or self-employment property, loss of income or other disaster-related expenses.

Also, keep in mind you have to follow the policies of the Hard Rock and BB&T Center when it comes to what you're allowed to bring while you wait.

"A clear bag, no strollers, of course weapons will be prohibited.  We don't want people bringing in chairs because they won't be able to get them through the line once they enter the stadium," said Bronwyn Stanford with the Department of Children and Families.

Soon after day one wrapped, a line of people began to form outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

But everyone who planned to spend the night staking out their spot was asked to leave because gates do not open until 6 a.m.

For more information on Hard Rock Stadium policies, click here.

For those going to the BB&T Center, Sunrise police warn drivers not to park at the neighboring Sawgrass Mills Mall because you won't be able to get in.

"If you plan on parking at the Sawgrass Mills Mall, stay in your car and drive into the parking lot of the BB&T. We're not going to allow foot traffic crossing the roadway," said Sunrise police officer Chris Piper.

More than 200 police officers from 11 departments are directing traffic and lines in the area to make sure people are going where they should.

BB&T's bag and personal item policy will be strictly enforced at this event. Bags or personal items larger than 12 by 12 inches, backpacks, coolers, umbrellas, and chairs are not permitted in the exterior line or inside of the BB&T Center building.

Once people get inside the process takes just a matter of minutes.

At its peak, people went through the line, signed up and got out in less than 3 hours and many with more than a $1,000 in one-time food stamps.

There's a lot at stake, which has organizers keeping an eye out for fraud. So far, they've headed off about $10 million worth.

If anyone's caught scamming, there are some stiff penalties.

"They could be required to pay that money back and in certain cases could even face criminal prosecution and lifetime ban from receiving benefits in the future," said Patterson-Hughes.

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