Falon Brownlee and her daughter, Amirah, shop for food at Nourishing Hope’s Sheridan Market. (All photos by Kenneth Johnson for Nourishing Hope.)
On an early November morning at the Sheridan Market, Falon Brownlee found herself thinking of the Powerball lottery.
She wasn’t alone — the Powerball had people all over the country daydreaming as potential winnings swelled to more than $2 billion. She already knew what she’d do with that kind of money: She’d donate a large chunk of it to Nourishing Hope.
“The first thing I’d do is give God his due and this place is full of love and God,” Brownlee said.
That kind of gratitude is priceless. It was also bountiful on this particular morning as people received turkeys, hams and other delicious food for their upcoming Thanksgiving feasts. In total, Nourishing Hope plans to provide 3,200 turkeys, 2,400 Cornish hens, and more than 2,000 hams and chickens throughout November and December.
The reason why is simple: We believe everyone should have the opportunity to have a special holiday meal with their loved ones.
And considering the cost of the average Thanksgiving meal is 20% higher this year, many families are in need of assistance with their holiday meals.
“Turkeys are so expensive now,” said Sharon Hitchcock, 40. “It’s going to help me out tremendously.”
Every morning, Hitchcock leaves her South Side house at 5:30 a.m. to take a bus, a train and another bus to commute to her North Side job at a wireless phone store. She leaves the two 3-year-olds in her care — her granddaughter and her adopted son — with her stepmother.
Though she lives in subsidized housing, Hitchcock struggles to balance rent with the cost of food and other bills. The sole provider for her household, she’s not getting enough hours at work to make enough money. And meanwhile, food prices have hit historic highs this year.
“People don’t really understand,” said Hitchcock, 40. “It’s really rough right now.”
When she visits the Sheridan Market, she receives milk, fruit, vegetables and meat for her son and granddaughter. With that food, she cooks meals for the whole week.
The inflationary food prices have only compounded the challenges for many still trying to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.
Vince Rango, 58, has struggled to find consistent work. After a lengthy career in TV journalism and communications, Rango resigned from his job at a media relations firm in 2017 to help care for his dad, who had dementia.
As he attempted to get back into the workforce, the pandemic hit and the economy slowed to a crawl, limiting his opportunities. Despite his characteristic positive attitude, Rango said, he felt “very lonely and isolated.”
Now he’s worried about losing his Edgewater condo.
“I’ve been applying (for jobs) left and right,” Rango said “It’s been very frustrating and very disheartening.”
Nourishing Hope’s Sheridan Market has been a source of food and comfort for Rango. He also said he appreciated the quality of his interactions with people at the pantry.
“When I leave here I have food,” Rango said, “but I’m also just reminded that there are people who care and who want to help.”
Smiling, he added: “I’ve never made a turkey, but I’m excited to try. It gives me hope, you know?”
For Brownlee, the food provided at Nourishing Hope helps her care for her daughters, Amirah, 1, and Bryleigh, 8. She became the family’s sole provider when her older daughter’s father died of COVID-related health issues last year.
Brownlee wiped away tears as she reflected on the challenges of recent years.
She has persevered. In addition to working full-time, she’s continued to pursue her own education, recently completing online graduate level courses through Purdue University. Still, she often is forced to make some difficult decisions.
Save for her daughters’ future or pay for car insurance? She chose the former.
When she’s needed help in recent years, she’s found it every time at Nourishing Hope.
“Everything is always fresh here,” Brownlee said. “I don’t feel embarrassed about coming here. I bring my children and we’re treated with respect here. To walk in here and see a diverse and respectful atmosphere, it’s what brings me back again and again.”