Event feeds more than 1,500 in Immokalee

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IMMOKALEE, Fla. Thanksgiving isn’t the same this year for those still dealing with the impact of Hurricane Irma.

That’s most families in Immokalee, where more than 1,500 gathered Thursday for hot meals at Thanksgiving in the Park, an event designed to fight hunger.

Damage to some homes is still significant, and a lack of jobs means it’s tough to make enough money to fix them.

MOREVolunteers feed 300 turkeys to hungry in Fort Myers

Thousands of families are still trying to get back on their feet.

Jesusita Rodriguez is one of the many whose home didn’t survive the storm.

“The roof fell in; you can’t live in it,” she said.

Floodwaters in some neighborhoods came up more than 6 feet, and some residents didn’t have power for 40 days, Rodriguez said.

Damage done to area crops means work is slow, and jobs are scarce.

Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church in North Naples and The Guadalupe Center of Immokalee organized Thursday’s meal. The church also delivered food to those stuck at home or too scared to venture out.

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Fewer showed up this year than expected, said Jean-Paul Boucher, the church’s general manager. Some of that is because the crop devastation brought fewer migrant workers to the area, Boucher said.

Also contributing to the poor turnout is the Trump administration’s decision to end temporary residency permits for 60,000 Haitians, according to Boucher.

For those who did show up, the event provided a hot, full meal many haven’t been able to afford in months.

“Lots of people still don’t have place to live still, and they’re looking for help,” Rodriguez said.

But Rodriguez hasn’t lost her faith.

“Irma was the best thing that could have happened,” she said. “It destroyed a lot of things, it broke a lot of things, but it brought a lot of people to help.”

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