curley_2__web.jpg(FIU)- It isn’t unusual for food banks to see more people during the holidays, however this past holiday season the lines outside of Curley’s House were the longest ever.

It wasn’t just because of the holidays. 

Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps that went into effect this past November, made it tough for many families to buy enough food.

The uniquely named Curley’s, which has its origins in a Liberty City beauty salon, has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of people seeking aid and, along with other food banks, continues to feel the pressure of trying to help feed the community.

“A lot of our clients were unaware of the budget cuts,” says LaVerne Holliday, administrator of Curley’s House, also known as Hope Relief Food Bank. “They found out when they went to use their card at the grocery store.”

About 850,000 low-income households across the country have experienced cuts to SNAP. According to Feeding America, the nutrition-only farm bill cut $40 billion from SNAP, causing each household to lose about $90 per month in their SNAP benefits and 4 to 6 million people to lose their SNAP benefits completely. 

“The government and politicians have their own agenda; they only care about the community when it is time to vote.” says Holliday. “They should be more respectful of the people and stop making promises they don’t keep.”

Curley’s began as the legacy of the late Curley “Cuzzie” King, owner of    Beauty Salon, who would help people in the community with food and other necessities.

Lavern Elie-Scott, now the food bank’s executive director, worked with King and when the salon owner died, Elie-Scott decided to continue the work, establishing Curley’s House at 6025 NW Sixth Court.

The food bank receives about $1,900 per month from grants and private donors to purchase food and receives food donations from Winn Dixie, Camillus House, Publix, Roma Foods, local churches and other organizations. Curley’s House also offers donated clothing and assistance in applying for public programs.

The salon, Curley’s House of Style, still operates at 6301 NW Seventh Ave., just down the street from the food bank and often provides free styling for women in the community going on job interviews or who have special events.

Although Curley’s House is based in Liberty City, it supports people from all over Miami-Dade County and recently more often from Broward as well. The only thing the organization requires from each recipient is a photo ID.

Christine Chambers, 47, can’t keep a job because her 9-year-old son has severe attention deficit disorder and she constantly has to drop what she’s doing to pick him up from school. She gets a disability check for her son, but there’s no money left after rent and utilities. Her food stamps amount to only $112 per month.

“What about the cost of living? What do I do when the car needs fixing?” she asks. “The food bank does a lot for us; they help make ends meet.” 

She tries to find work here and there to make extra money, cleaning her landlord’s office and the like.

“Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow and deal with the situation,” said Chambers. ” It’s hard, but it could be a lot worse. I am blessed.”

Curley’s House accepts everyone who needs help.

Elie-Scott explains that the center focuses heavily on senior citizens in the community.

Many of the seniors are victims of domestic violence or war veterans or infected with HIV/AIDs, and receive as little as $400 in monthly Social Security benefits and only $5 to $10 in food stamps.

John Sturrup has seen his food stamps cut from $200 to $83 per month.

“They messed me up real bad. If it wasn’t for the bank I wouldn’t eat,” said Sturrup. “I’m a diabetic and they want me to eat healthy and eat all this diet food, but I can’t afford it. Greens and vegetables is expensive.”

Curley’s House now feeds more than 5,000 people per month.

With such high demand, there are now limits on the number of times each person comes to pick up food. But as long as there is food on the shelves, it’s rare that Curley’s House turns anyone away.

Mitchel Eugene Johnson, 56, a former nurse who is now on disability, says his food stamps weren’t enough to last for the whole month even before the budget cuts.

He takes three different buses to make it to the food bank, even on days where he’s only allowed a bag of breads and sweets.

“I have no food to eat and no money,” says Johnson. “That’s why I have to come here.”

Says Elie-Scott: “If it weren’t for organizations like ours a lot of our seniors would be forced to eat the cans of cat and dog food in their pantry.”

For information about Curley’s House, call 305-759-9805 or email .

Contact Toni-Ann Ferguson at: