By Fatema Hosseini

On Nov. 17, nearly 60 cars stopped by the First United Methodist Church at 6201 Belcrest Road in less than an hour to get fresh produce, including sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbages. There were six volunteers there to distribute the food, including Cheri Everhart, the deputy director of community services for the City of Hyattsville, and Kayla Posie Nelson, the program specialist at the Capital Area Food Bank.

Originally, the idea of hosting a food distribution site came from County Councilmember Deni Tavares. According to Everhart, at the beginning of the pandemic, Tavares approached Hyattsville’s community services department about being a distribution point in her network. She wanted to help people who lost their jobs or could not go to work. Tavares organized several locations for food distribution, spread throughout her district. “As she asked the city to be part of it, we jumped at the chance and said, absolutely. We are going to do whatever we can to get people what they need all summer,” said Everhart. 

For two and a half years, Hyattsville had weekly food distributions at Driskell Park through a partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank and County Councilmember Deni Tavares. 

“We support our residents and neighbors who need a little help putting food on their tables,” Everhart said. She explained that there is no way to identify people who need support and that everyone who comes in the line will be provided with fresh vegetables. 

Now, food is distributed monthly and the location has changed to the First United Methodist Church. This is the third month of the new fresh produce distribution program. According to Nelson, the locations for the food distribution are chosen from areas considered food deserts, meaning that there is no grocery store within walking distance. “We basically want to choose sites where it’s easily accessible to people, whether they have cars or not,” said Nelson. 

Nelson said that the Capital Area Food Bank coordinates various distributions across the region, including fresh produce, frozen protein, yogurt, and nonperishable food. 

Gleni Espinal, who lives in the neighborhood, volunteered to help with food distribution. She heard about the event from the city’s Facebook page. Espinal is a refugee from Honduras living here with her 27-year-old son and husband. “I came to the US to work, but I am disabled and cannot get a job. I get $1,000 as a stipend from the government, which is not enough,” said Espinal. 

Vivian Akaeze is one of the people in need. She heard about the event from her friend, who also stopped by the church to receive the fresh produce package. “This is a good initiative; if everyone in the whole community can put something like this together, we would have fewer people on the street,” said Akaeze. She was surprised by the long line of people waiting to receive fresh produce. Akaeze said that the long line helped her understand how many in the community, including herself, need support.