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.
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.
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