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Traffic chaos forces people to turn away from free food

Wm. Shawn Weigel * Delaware
shawn.weigel@doverpost.com
Dover Post

Dozens turned away from a scheduled food giveaway in Wilmington because of a potential traffic nightmare – not a depleted store of supplies.

Late on Tuesday, March 17, the Food Bank of Delaware announced it would give away food at three locations over the following three days – the first in Wilmington the following day.

“The Food Bank of Delaware is prepared to serve up to 500 households at each pantry,” a press release from the Food Bank said. “Participants are asked to not arrive prior to 10:45 a.m.”

According to FBD communications director Kim Turner, however, some folks arrived as early as 8 a.m.

Instead of setting up at their Newark warehouse, the giveaway took place at the Chase Center at the Riverfront, with police blocking the Madison Street entrance and redirecting traffic to the main entrance on Justison Street.

As traffic continued to mount, filling up the roughly one-mile stretch from the intersection of MLK Jr. Boulevard and Justison Street to the Chace Center, Turner said the decision was made to start handing out food at 10 a.m.

“Cars were actually starting to back up onto the [northbound exit from] I-95,” Turner said. “We were faced with disrupting traffic for downtown Wilmington.”

By 10:30, the two right lanes of MLK approaching Justison were bumper-to-bumper as people hoping to get into the Chase Center crowded into the right turn lane.

Half an hour later, with drivers in the right-hand thru lane on MLK Jr. Boulevard trying to squeeze into the turn lane to Justison, most were no nearer to the intersection – let alone the actual giveaway happening inside.

Around 11:15, with some cars only inches closer than they were 15 minutes earlier, a Wilmington police cruiser drove slowly down the thru lane on MLK.

“There is no food left at the giveaway,” he intoned over his car’s PA system, repeating it over and over as he drove on to the Justison intersection.

Almost immediately, the two lanes of bumper-to-bumper cars peeled off into the thru lane, leaving the intersection empty except for a lone police officer directing traffic away from Justison.

A man who had earlier been seen racing towards Justison on foot – despite it being a drive-thru only event to minimize contact and maintain “social distancing” – was seen minutes later walking back down MLK empty handed.

When asked for his account, he shook his head.

“Police wouldn’t even let me down there,” he said. “This s*** is like a zombie movie.”

One woman who appeared to have her trunk ajar to accommodate the food handlers pulled over long enough to slam her hatch shut before jumping back in her van and speeding off.

Turner said that, in fact, they did not run out of food; rather, the announcement was an attempt to clear up the intense traffic, and to prevent people from waiting so long that they actually do run out.

“We didn’t want people to sit there for … hours, only to hear that we’re out,” Turner said. “But we did not run out of food – we actually went back to [the warehouse in] Newark to make sure we had enough.”

Turner said the announcement was due to a “miscommunication” based on “misinformation” to clear traffic from the I-95 ramp, without assigning blame to any one agency.

“We don’t want to say anything against any of our community partners in this situation,” Turner said. “It was an effort to confront the traffic problem.”

Handlers continued to pass out goods at the Chase Center as late as 2 p.m. Wednesday.

More giveaways planned

The Sussex County giveaway is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, March 19, at Crossroads Community Church, 20684 State Forest Road, Georgetown.

The Kent County giveaway is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, March 20, at Dover International Speedway (enter through main entrance of Dover Downs Hotel & Casino), 1131 North Dupont Highway, Dover.