A young African woman wearing a black coca-cola sweatshirt and a gray beanie sits with her face in her hands and a friend's tattooed arm on her shoulder coming from the right.
Awel, 31, receives a comforting gesture while talking to a friend following the weekly free grocery distribution in the Everett neighborhood on Sunday, April 9, 2023. She came from Africa 18 years ago and since then has found it difficult to remain hopeful through the cycle of poverty. But despite her struggles with homelessness, she has been able to find a community that supports and looks out for her. “They are good people and they really help you when you’re in crisis,” Awel said. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)

It’s Sunday afternoon in Everett, a neighborhood located just south of the Haymarket. Residents begin to make their way to a corner and line up with empty bags in hand as volunteers set up tables, stacking them with boxes of produce and canned goods.

One by one, the line extends as many familiar faces greet their friends and neighbors. The line of five turns into a line of 20. They are happy: today it is 70 degrees and sunny. There have been Sundays in the past where it was so cold they couldn’t feel their hands or their clothes became drenched in the rain. But rain or snow, New Years or Easter, the Everett Free Grocery Program has taken place every Sunday for the past three years.

The Everett neighborhood is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Lincoln, with about 42% of the population consisting of minorities. The neighborhood contains some of the city’s oldest houses, which date back to the 1870s. The neighborhood’s rich culture creates an environment with a diverse mix of languages, music, art and food. It is also one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Lincoln, with the average resident making about $22,000 per year and 26% of residents falling below the poverty line. This leads some to struggle to afford even the daily necessities. 

Each week, a group of about ten volunteers who live in the neighborhood gather food and hygiene products donated by local stores and those in the neighborhood to distribute them on Sunday to residents in Everett who need them. Anywhere from 40 to 70 people come each Sunday to pick out groceries, enjoy a hot meal and perhaps play some dominoes.

One regular attendee is Awel, who has been coming to the distribution for years.

“I know everybody over here,” Awel said.

Awel is one of the first people in line today. She makes her way from person to person, hugging her friends before heading over to the volunteers setting up to say hello to Chad. He was the one that brought her to the distribution for the first time.

Awel is homeless and has been on her own since she was 15. She is originally from Africa and came to the United States in 2005 with her mother and brother. She has become close with the community in Everett and those who organize the grocery program.

“When they’re bringing the food, they’re bringing the whole community together. You talk, and you chat with people you don’t even know,” Awel said.

Awel said she appreciates the kindness they have shown to her and their willingness to come to her rescue when she is in trouble.

“They will put their hands together to help you when you’re in need,” Awel said.

While on the outside, she can often be seen smiling and laughing with her neighbors; she struggles with feelings of hopelessness, and her difficult journey over the past 31 years has taught her that life is anything but fair. However, she views the people around her as a blessing and supporting them brings her happiness.

“It’s helpful when you help other people,” Awel said.

Awel ed 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
Awel fights back tears while recalling her past experiences, expressing her frustration with her current situation and seeing those she cares about suffer. She says it is hard to feel and see so much need while the rest of the city does little to assist her and her friends. She wants a better life but often wonders whether things will ever change. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)

Located just west of the Near South neighborhood, Everett’s boundaries are between H and South streets, and South ninth and 13th streets. Many pass through the neighborhood every day, perhaps stopping at Casey’s to refill their tank of gas, or grabbing a coffee at Cultiva on their lunch break. However, many miss the businesses and everyday people that shape this neighborhood: the strip on 11th street with the Hispanic grocery store, ice cream shop and bakery or the vegan chef across the street from Everett Elementary giving out free art supplies to students after school gets out. Maybe they overlook the wheelchair-bound young man picking up his weekly stock of candy at Guerrero’s Market or the group of Spanish-speaking families making their way to a biweekly ESL class at a local church.

From the outside, many see a disadvantaged neighborhood full of people with unfortunate circumstances. There are artists, refugees, immigrants, students…but most importantly, there are people. There are people who live in buildings owned by slum lords, people who live in a neighborhood exploited by the city and nonprofits for its culture and diversity, people who moved in without knowing any English and people who live in a community with an annual income 60% that of the city. 

Yet despite the hardships and differences, they understand community better than most, and they yearn for outsiders to lead with learning rather than change.

line edj 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
A group of residents stand in line to pick up bread, canned goods, pantry staples, hygiene products, fresh produce and homemade cupcakes at the Everett Free Grocery Program on Sunday afternoon. The program started around the beginning of the pandemic when resources were slim and since then has run on donations and volunteers from the neighborhood. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)
David7 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
David Téllez Sanders sips a slushy after picking up some items from Guerrero’s Market on Thursday, March 30, 2023. He grew up in the Everett neighborhood and became wheelchair-bound after suffering an accident. “I’m definitely not where I thought I would end up,” Sanders said. However, although it isn’t easy, Sanders tries to continue looking forward and focus on what he can control and the people who are around to support him. “I’ve always been able to turn to my community when I need it,” Sanders said. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)
bakerhands ed 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
Rosa Chapo makes Mexican bread at Pan Dulce bakery on Thursday, March 30, 2023. The bakery has been in Everett for 14 years, only closing twice a year. Chapo and the other bakers work 60 to 70 hours per week and came to Lincoln from various Spanish-speaking countries. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)
Lidia edj 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
Lidia Gonzalez practices constructing an English sentence during an ESL class at Trinity Lutheran Church on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. She lives in Everett and has been coming to the classes since they started in the fall of 2018. The original class began at Immanuel Lutheran Church and later moved to Trinity Lutheran, expanding to three classes separated by skill levels. Gonzalez is now in the advanced class and often helps new ones with vocabulary and translation. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)
Hsar edj 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
Hsar Ro Paw sits with her translator, Ehmoo Dar, at the last School Neighborhood Advisory Committee meeting of the year at Everett Elementary. Hsar speaks Karen and is from the mountains of Burma and has two children who attend the school. During the meeting, they work on setting community goals and coming up with ideas to implement for the following school year. “We focus on asset-based community building,” said Emily Trauernicht, who works for the Lincoln Community Learning Centers as a community builder for Everett. This includes emphasizing the positive aspects of the community and how parents, students and educators can set and achieve goals that amplify these assets. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)
Rosa 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
Ana Salazar (left) and Rosa Sanchez (center) practice writing English sentences at a Family Literacy class at Everett Elementary on Friday, April 21, 2023. Teacher Lisa Dresbach teaches them while their children are in school. The Family Literacy program includes childcare for under school-age children, adult English classes and PACT time where parents can learn with their child in their classroom. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)
youngkid 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
A young boy grabs a set of watercolor paints from the art bin outside Pepe’s Bistro after school on Wednesday, April 13, 2023. Owner Pepe Fierro regularly restocks the bin with coloring books, paints and crayons for students and any passing artists to take for free. Pepe often tries to help out those in the community by organizing fundraisers and displaying local artists’ art in his bistro. He said when he first came to Lincoln, the community helped get him on his feet, and once he became a part of it, it changed him. “[Everett] did a lot for me; I am just part of the link,” Fierro said. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)
mural cropped 510x1024 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
(Top) Abuelos/Raices is a community mural created by local artist David Manzanares in 2020 to commemorate the deceased family members of those who live in the neighborhood. The mural is next to a sign naming the different Hispanic businesses located on that corner. (Middle) Rising Monarchs was painted in 2019 by Manzanares and pictures Pepe Fierro holding a jump rope along with local artist Katharen Wiese. The children represent young immigrants from various countries, their varying heights expressing the ups and downs of their experiences as new immigrants. (Bottom) The mural was painted in the spring of 2010 by students at Everett Elementary School Community Learning Center with their art teacher, Joan Phelan, and artist, Allison Fees. It illustrates the neighborhood and the buildings around it through the eyes of a child. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)
Artie1 1024x683 - Entering Everett: A neighborhood of diversity, strength and community
Local artist Artie Mack explains the background of one of his art pieces to good friend Kristan Fujan at Juju’s Vegan Cajun & Creole Cuisine on Friday, April 14, 2023. Mack is deaf and used to work as a cook for Juju’s, Nebraska’s first black-owned vegan restaurant. The restaurant is taking part in its last second Friday before permanently closing and transitioning to a food truck because of the expense of rent and utilities. Mack came to display his art and show his support for Derick Gaspard, owner of Juju’s. “This is kind of my last goodbye to this place,” Mack said. (Photo by Ellie Kuckelman/CoJMC)

Ellie Kuckelman is a senior journalism student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a minor in Spanish. Ellie has a passion for telling stories through both words and photos. She currently works for Nebraska Communications as a sports photographer.