A mother is walking with her daughters across the busy parking lot; they are holding onto the hem of her skirt. Her arms are full of a half a dozen long cucumbers and she has cloth grocery bags over both her shoulders. The bags look heavy and she is moving slowly under the load. “Ma’am? Ma’am? Let me help you!” another woman calls to her. They exchange smiles and the mother lets one bag drop from her shoulder.
People are standing in a long line hugging the foundation the East Market Street Seventh Day Adventist church gym, staying in the small shadow cast by the large building. It is not a hot day, but it is bright, and a number of elderly folks have brought rain umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun.
Today marks three years that the church has been running the Neighbors Helping Neighbors food distribution, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as an assortment of personal hygiene items and non-perishable foods, into the heart of a Greensboro food desert. It is clear that with the weekly practice, the volunteers have gotten their system down pat. The bleachers in the gym are lined with well-organized boxes of pre-sorted food items, bags of personal hygiene items line long folding tables, and a fleet of volunteers from the church stand prepared with grocery carts, ready to bring food out to cars.
The people coming to the distribution for help also have the system down. While there are always new people--aa seasonal worker just laid off, a family that had an unexpected bill and couldn’t stretch their monthly budget to also cover food-- there are regulars who come to this distribution. Most of them are senior citizens from the surrounding neighborhoods, who either lack the transportation to get to a grocery store or lack the income to pay for all the food they need. These older folks are the ones who seem most prepared today: They have brought lawn chairs to sit on while waiting and have laundry baskets strapped to push carts to carry home their food.
And over the three years of operation, Pastor Cedric Parker and his team at East Market Street Seventh Day Adventist have also learned that the need in this community is much more than just food. Food insecurity, after all, does not exist in a vacuum but is a symptom of poverty. To this end, the volunteers at the church have invited representatives from Cone Health and Reading Connections to their distributions, and the NC Works mobile career center is parked right outside. With transportation being such a huge hurdle for so many families that Second Harvest and our partner network serve, it makes sense to try to put everything together in one place.
Strawberries, blueberries, bananas, grapefruit, loaves of bread, armfuls of cucumbers. Over a few short hours, more than 200 people will move through Neighbors helping Neighbors.
The need is clear.