WILMINGTON — In the back corner of a parking lot on Market and 2nd Street, a food truck rumbles to life. Despite the summer heat, people begin to appear seemingly out of nowhere, slowly forming a line as Randy Evans and his group of volunteers begin handing out water.
For many, the idea of living in extreme poverty is an alien topic, something they couldn’t even imagine. But some, like Evans, are in the thick of it every day, working with individuals “experiencing poverty,” to improve their lives, and help them experience a life worth living.
Evans operates the non-profit, transformative ministry, known as “Walking Tall,” but in his words, it’s a mobile collective, a source of community for a part of society that is often left out to dry.
As a younger man, Evans was put through a poverty simulation by his church. Although it’s something he says he doesn’t need to experience again, especially as a “white, middle class intellectual,” it opened his eyes, and helped him find his true calling in life.
After operating The Hope Center in downtown Wilmington for almost two years, Evans felt he could be doing more, and decided to put his talents for helping others on wheels.
Walking Tall operates as a “mobile help center,” going to the places people need help the most. The organization offers free meals downtown and on Market and Kerr streets Tuesdays and Thursdays, partnering with local restaurants and food trucks to “share a meal” with people in need.
“We offer people in poverty dignity, through some amazing food, and relationships,” Evans said. “I’m really big about individuals being able to experience the same things that people with privilege do.”
On Thursday afternoon, Chef Keith Rhodes, owner of “Catch Modern Seafood,” brought “Catch the Food Truck,” downtown to help out, serving fresh fish and chicken tacos to anyone who was hungry.
“People in poverty don’t need our pity, they don’t need us to feel sorry for them. I get the feeling with charity, even if it’s unconscious, there’s this level of pity that comes with helping the poor,” Evans said. “I feel with people like Chef Keith Rhodes coming here, he’s expressing a high level of radical hospitality. He has a five star restaurant, he doesn’t have to be out here doing any of this.”
“I’m just doing the best I can do, with what I’ve got to give,” Rhodes said.
Evans says that that’s a testimony to their efforts in and of itself.
“You don’t have to have some grandiose plan about how you want to engage poverty, beyond what you’re good at,” Evans said. “With me, one of my strong suits is relationship building, and networking. So, I use those two things to engage poverty.”
Walking Tall has partnered with many local food trucks and restaurants, which offer donations where they can. The first to join was ‘Ramen A Go Go,’ a new Asian themed food truck, which signed on to help out with lunch every Tuesday.
The organization has also recruited A&M Red Food Truck, as well as several local breweries to help with fundraising drives.
When they’re not serving fresh meals, the team is driving around the city offering individuals food, clothes, medical supplies, an open heart and an open ear.
Evans has also teamed up with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, operating a needle exchange out of Carolina Beach. In addition to this, he works with the Closer Walk Church in Leland, to provide a free laundry service for those who need it.
“The house and the car and all that stuff is fine and dandy,” Evans said. “However, if there’s not a sense of self respect, and self worth, then all that other stuff means nothing.”
The stigma and language connection
According to Evans, one of the biggest stigmas against the impoverished, is language. He feels that the words people use, and the things people say, can hold these individuals back who are trying to get a leg up, and become a bigger part of society.
“One of the big things for me is language, language matters. I try to be very, very specific about words and language, I don’t use the word homeless, I say ‘individuals experiencing poverty,’ because with all my heart I believe that it’s an experience, it’s a circumstance,” Evans said.
The key, he says, is to treat them like you would anyone else. His hope with Walking Tall is to empower these individuals, and it shows.
As people order and get their food, Evans goes around to each person, exchanging a word, shaking hands and giving hugs. If they need something, all they have to do is ask, and he’ll do his best to be a friend for them.
“You hear, ‘we’re going to feed the homeless,’ and I feel like there’s a lot of inequality in that language. So, I find power in saying, ‘we’ll share a meal,’ there’s an instant connection when you share something with someone,” he said. “When you give something to someone, it’s a transaction, there’s a power struggle there. If I give you something, in regards to culture, you owe me something now.”
Evans says he tries to find the beauty in the situations the impoverished face. According to him, poverty creates culture, because those with nothing to lose, have everything to gain.
“It really is beautiful, I’d never be able to put a value on the services guys like Chef Keith Rhodes provide,” he says. “It’s about doing the right thing, it’s friends experiencing a meal together, it’s radical hospitality.”
Eventually, Evans would like to see Walking Tall become a coalition of food trucks and restaurants, akin to “Chef’s Table” style family gatherings.
“If we can get 50 or 60 different restaurants participating, we can provide these individuals with a different meal every day of the year,” he said.
For more information, or to get involved, visit the Walking Tall Facebook page. If you’d like to partner with Walking Tall, email Randy Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact him at (919) 349-1993.