Today was the second time in her life that Dessi Flores has been to a food bank. The first time was last month, in the same place — an emergency food pantry in the parking lot at Evanston Township High School.
Today’s food bank, and last month’s, was organized by a couple of ETHS graduates, Parker English (Class of 2014), and Grace Sarkor (Class of 2015). The first event distributed more than 1,000 bags of food, and helped more than 200 families. If the line of cars stretching out of the parking lot, onto Davis Street, and then into Dodge Avenue was any indication, today’s numbers will turn out to be impressive as well.
“Evanston needs the help,” says Sarkor. “The more people we can help, the better.”
People like Dessi Flores, and her mom, Macaria Barrera. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and its’ economic impact, Barerra’s job has been cut from full-time to three days a week. The family’s finances are on the edge. “It’s really difficult to be hopeful,” Flores says.
At least Barrera has a job. Another woman, Jenny, who only wanted to give her first name, was also in the line of cars, with her mother. Both of Jenny’s parents were laid off. “It’s a difficult adjustment, trying to find a job, trying to find someone who is hiring,” Jenny explains.
It was not difficult to find first-timers at the food bank. Eric Guzman, laid off. Jordan Jackson, laid off.
And it was not difficult to find workers from the hardest-hit businesses. Jackie, first name only, was employed in the fast food industry, where “work is really slow,” and where layoffs have been common. Jackie hopes she’ll be called back “in a couple of weeks.”
An outpouring of help made both food banks possible. English says a GoFundMe drive raised $20,000, to help buy groceries. Businesses such as Jennifer’s Edibles and Koi Asian Cuisine provided meals. English says “the community has really shown up” to provide assistance.
Evanston is a city with wide disparities in income. Walk from downtown to ETHS, and you pass million-dollar houses, manicured lawns, and, on a nice day like today, you can see a boat on a trailer, passing by, no doubt, for a day on the lake.
But turn the corner onto Dodge Avenue, and you see a long line of cars, with those hardest hit financially, waiting for food. There has always been food insecurity for some in Evanston, says English. “COVID has made it worse.”
The two organizers, friends since high school, hope to have a third food bank day before the end of the month. “It seems like families need a little extra help,” says Sarkor. “COVID has hit people hard.”
And with extension of supplemental unemployment benefit in doubt, as Democrats and Republicans fight it out in Washington, that third food bank day would no doubt see another long line.
At least people in that line appreciate the help. Slowly driving his car towards those loading the vehicles, Jackson says of his first time at a food bank, “it’s a great thing” the two ETHS grads have put together.