Care and Community at the Share Fair

This article was written by UO journalism student Nate Wilson who attended and wrote about the Share Fair for a class project. We think it really captures the spirit of the Share Fair and so we wanted to share it more widely! (With Nate’s permission of course.) 

Eugene, Ore. — Hundreds of Eugene’s unhoused and lower-income residents gathered at the Solidarity Share Fair to restock on essential supplies and recover from the ice storm that froze much of the Willamette Valley last week.

Held at the Unitarian Universalist Church and facilitated by the Neighborhood Anarchist Collective (NAC) since 2017, the Share Fair provides free resources to those in need: everything from blankets and kids toys to tampons and alcohol-fueled lamps. NAC, a local organization devoted to community support, nonviolence and the decentralization of power, believes direct action like the Share Fair is critical to helping marginalized people in Eugene, which, as of 2019, has the highest per capita rate of houselessness in the country.

The Share Fair gave Eric, an unhoused person who sheltered at the nearby Lane Events Center during the ice storm, a necessary respite. “I’m still recovering from it physically,” said Eric. “I’m just so sore. My hip is killing me and I’m limping, but I know I don’t have any broken bones.”

Full of warm enchiladas and with a bag of new socks in tow, Eric planned to heal his aching body with a Thai massage, one of many free services offered by the Share Fair alongside first-aid assistance, bike repair and haircuts.

Volunteer Coordinator for NAC, Yarrow, worried about those who couldn’t make it to one of Eugene’s warming centers when the weather was much worse. “I almost feel like this event is too late,” said Yarrow. “People are only now getting the things they could’ve used a couple of weeks ago.

Tim, the executive director of the Eugene-Springfield Tenant Association, shared a similar concern. According to Tim, the ice storm forced more people into houselessness largely because of fires sparked by electrical malfunctions. Although the tenant association didn’t receive an influx of calls during the ice storm, people who did call faced much more dire circumstances than normal.

Finally free from slippery and cold conditions, however, locals returned to the Share Fair with enthusiasm. Kathy, a first-timer who proudly adorned a University of Oregon (UO) visor, arrived early to capitalize on the dozen tables loaded with donated clothing. Scoring new boots, clippers and two bags of clothes, Kathy quickly filled her seated walker.

As Kathy browsed the clothing tables, several others sat to appreciate the smooth folk music echoing across the church’s central chamber. While listening and enjoying food served by volunteers from UO’s Alpha Phi Omega, people reconnected with familiar faces and talked to new ones. The Share Fair isn’t just about restocking, but also building community.

In order to foster community, NAC prioritizes inclusivity — all are welcome, no questions asked. Comparing the Share Fair to a similar initiative in Florence, Marci and her daughter saw a stark contrast. Marci remarked at the lack of stigma surrounding the unhoused and lower-income people at the Share Fair, and at the consideration organizers demonstrated.

“Everyone here is friendly and relaxed — you just get a really warm vibe,” Marci said. “I would definitely come back.”

Both Eric and Kathy plan to as well.

The next Share Fair will take place in late April. When mainstream pathways of care are inaccessible or break down, as they did during Oregon’s recent ice storm, events like the Share Fair become even more important.

“What we’re doing is actually going to people,” said Yarrow. “We’re building a community through solidarity, especially for people who have been pretty abused by the system.”

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