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Scuffles break out in line for Wisconsin food vouchers

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — Pushing and shoving broke out Monday among some of the 2,500 people hit hard by recent floods who lined up outside a county office in hopes of collecting free food vouchers.

Some residents told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they heard from friends or at food pantries that they could get free vouchers to replace food lost in recent floods and power outages. However, the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center was only taking names for a state voucher program.

Scuffles began breaking out around 7 a.m. with people shoving, pushing, and taking a door off its hinges, bringing police in dozens of cars, authorities said.

There were no serious injuries or arrests, police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said. Nor did police ask people to leave.

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Charline Britt was crushed against a door and passed out. She felt feet stomp on her back as people rushed into the center when the doors opened at 8 a.m., she said.

"They just went crazy down there, just totally crazy," said Britt, 52, whose basement had been flooded.

Paramedics gave her oxygen, but Britt declined a trip to the hospital. Instead, she waited to apply for assistance and said she would visit her own doctor later.

Eileen Force, a spokeswoman for Mayor Tom Barrett, said some of the people in line had heard rumors that officials were giving out vouchers, not just taking names.

County officials issued a statement later Monday saying Milwaukee County residents who apply for the vouchers by Friday would receive them. The county is administering the program for the state.

Some people at the center said they were told it would be a month or two before they received money or food assistance.

"Now I have to try and get (to) a food pantry," said Yvonne Love, who has children 8, 10 and 14. "I’ve got to feed my kids."

Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines asked for contributions to America’s Second Harvest of Wisconsin, a food bank that serves the city.

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"The food crisis in Milwaukee — and throughout the United States — is worse than many of us have realized," Hines said in a statement. "We expect long lines for free food in Third World countries; we don’t expect a line of 2,500 people waiting for food vouchers at the Marcia P. Coggs Center."

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