Historic Palm Bay Community Center Faces Financial Crisis

Julia Cooper could easily get in her car, drive to a grocery store at a company like Publix or Walmart, and walk down a well-stocked aisle.

But instead, Cooper, who lives in a working-class neighborhood in the Powell area, south melbournedelights in being outdoors, waving to neighbors, and strolling in the cool morning air to the Evans Center Community Market.

There she picks up takeout platters of creamy Southern-style grits, freshly-cooked eggs, crispy bacon, and the occasional fried fish from the deli for the family.

“I’m right down the street and the food is good. It’s nice to have a market in our neighborhood here,” Cooper said.

“It’s what saves me from cooking. I can talk to people and it’s good exercise.”

But if the Evans Center at 1361 Florida Avenue on the border of Palm Bay and South Melbourne doesn’t raise $150,000 by May 15, it could be suspended soon.

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Four years after Evans Center Inc. opened its doors with a vision to provide fresh produce, health services, and jobs to people living in low- to middle-income communities, the $1.5 million market and communities are struggling financially.

Earlier this year, the board of directors that governs the endowment- and grant-driven center held two community forums to discuss news of a $150,000 financial gap that could close its doors forever. According to the center’s management, by May 15, funds are needed to meet the shortfall in operations at the center, including the market, by the beginning of the year.

A lot of people were shocked. Others began pledging funds. So far, more than $30,000 has been raised for him since last month, according to center officials, and an emergency fundraiser will be held at stores on May 6.

According to management, more funding is needed to move forward and keep all the center’s services operational.

“We appeal to the entire community. The Evans Center is becoming more and more important as a vibrant community hub,” said Lynn Brockwell Carey.

She is Executive Director of Neighbor Up Brevard, a community organization that came together 20 years ago to help revitalize the Booker T. Washington neighborhood in north Melbourne. Neighbor Up Brevard helped build and open her Evans, and all funds from the fundraiser will go to the center’s operating costs, the manager said.

“It’s not just the stores and delis that people come to. The Evans Center also offers programs that people get involved in—programs that improve health standards and support workforce development,” said Brockwell-Carey. I’m here.

“But there were always financial gaps that needed to be filled through donations and grants. We raised funds, but we also had to deal with the impact of COVID and inflation. We have not asked for it, but instead we are working on further investments.”

back to the future

Evans Market has a long history.

In 1965, long before megastores like Walmart and Publix built supermarket empires, Roosevelt “Ross” Evans opened the doors of a small grocery store on the corner of Randolph and Florida streets. One of Evans’ former directors recalled how Ross Evans used funds from his three black businesses his owners to make it happen. The store provided local residents with fresh meats, side dishes, vegetables and a sense of the place.

The neighborhood market has thrived for decades and has become a gathering place A self-sufficient oasis Mainly for residents of black districts.

Longtime community activist Sandra Pelham, whose mother ran a small grocery store just up the street for 52 years, recalled how Evans knew his customers.

“It was necessary, and that’s why I thought it would be a great idea to revive that store to serve the community. There are a lot of people here who don’t have transportation,” Pelham said, noting that the store was in its heyday. He added that it was a way to get back to his neighborhood market.

After Evans died, the store changed owners and eventually fell into disrepair. Members of the Powell District Neighborhood Watch Program and many congregations began looking to the remains of the abandoned store for a new project. They have joined forces to remove trash from the surrounding premises they roam and reclaim territory from drug dealers.

closed building stuffed with asbestos lining It became a dilapidated and unsightly site, but was demolished and cleaned up in 2012. Evans Center Inc., a nonprofit that oversees efforts to rebuild the marketplace, purchased the vacant lot from Palm Bay for $10,000. The goal is to reopen stores while providing goods and services to his 2,500 households, about 63% of which have no cars.

By then the store had been closed for 12 years.

“We did a lot of solicitation. We went door-to-door to see what people wanted. James Bartell, former chairman of the Evans Center Board of Directors, said:

Some residents suggested coin laundry. Others have talked about having a grocery store.

The store gave residents like Cooper a place to shop, while also employing 16 people to give back to the community. If the store closes, all the workers will lose their jobs within this month.

“The Evans Center has created jobs,” said Brockwell-Carey, investing $1.1 million in the local economy through payroll.

COVID, post-inflation neighborhood markets struggle

The store is also a haven for kids and teens, offering everything from cooking classes to yoga. Older residents use meeting spaces to collect and share the latest neighborhood happenings.Center through grants Served over 8,000 hot meals to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last summer, an additional 922 meals were provided to children through our annual storytelling program.

Bartell attended a community meeting where the $150,000 shortfall was discussed.

he was stunned.

“I didn’t know until that meeting. I thought they were doing really well.

Brockwell-Carey said board members were informed privately of the expected shortfall last year.

“I’m very hopeful that we’ll reach our goal. I’ve seen people rise up so quickly,” said Brockwell-Carey.

Brockwell-Carey said many factors combined to create the cash shortage. 6,000 square foot center Annual operating budget of $500,000 She applied for grants and held an annual Motown fundraiser, but those efforts weren’t enough, she said.

Inflation, which, among other factors, has pushed up prices for basic groceries such as chicken and eggs nationwide, has pushed grocery retailers just one year after opening to stores fresh out of the pandemic. It hit me hard. Brockwell-Carey also pointed to the fact that the generosity of early donors had come to an end.

Earlier this year, speculation began circulating among workers and some in the community that Evans was struggling financially. Invited other people to the discussion. At another public meeting, a board member was told by Brockwell-Carey, more specifically, about her $150,000 shortfall that could close the center’s doors.

Some, including Pelham, questioned whether the board overseeing the center was transparent and timely on the issue.

“They knew this was happening and should have brought this up to the community sooner.

Josephine Peterson-Hunter, who was named to Evans’ board of directors two years ago, said it came as a surprise.

“I really think that’s the problem,” Peterson-Hunter said. “This has taken the community by surprise. Now we are facing an uphill climb.”


Evans Center Director Susan Phillips-Hardison sees an opportunity to grow the community hub concept when it hits the market in February 2022.

“I was here the other day and was blown away to see people taking fitness classes and working out. This is necessary,” said Phillips Hardison.

Palm Bay City Council member Kenny Johnson noted that the center has become a viable part of the community.

“The city made an investment in the center when it started…it’s very disheartening to see this happen,” Johnson said.

Phillips-Hardison has worked to spread the word about the financial situation of the community center and the sudden increase in funding needed to meet the short deadline. She planned a fundraiser for her May 6 Farmers Market and invited community leaders, pastors, business leaders and other neighbors to tour the facility and see the center’s economic impact. I hope The event will be held at the center on Saturday from 11am to 3pm.

“It is overwhelming, but we cannot do this without the support of our community. You see kids who really need this, and it’s really heartbreaking that programs are being compromised to see these,” said Phillips-Hardison. .

“You have to get buy-in from the community. You can’t close it. You can’t.”

JD Gallop Criminal Justice/Breaking News Reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641 or jgallop@floridatoday.com. twitter: @JD Gallop.

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