Vernon Black Eyes, 32, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, goes over a list of people whom he planned to give free bottles of hand sanitizer in Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Urban Indian couple helps community amid coronavirus crisis

• PHOTOS: Lakota man helps fight the coronavirus

LINCOLN, Nebraska -- A woman in a wheelchair.

A middle-aged man in an affluent neighborhood.

A Native woman in an apartment living with three grandchildren.

While so many people stayed home Sunday to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a 32-year-old Lakota man went from house to house in Lincoln, Nebraska, delivering much-needed and hard-to-find bottles of hand sanitizer.

“This has been in sitting in alcohol and Lysol so it’s completely germ-free,” Vernon Black Eyes said as he handed a bottle to a woman in a wheelchair outside her apartment.

“Thank you,” she said. “I made two trips to Walmart, and I can’t get any.”

“Thanks for what you’re doing.”

Vernon Black Eyes, 32, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, gives a bottle of hand sanitizer to a man in Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Over the past week, Black Eyes and his girlfriend Sara Anderson have been distributing hand sanitizer and toilet paper to people who need it – elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.

He said he got the idea after giving a bottle of sanitizer to an older woman as they stood in line at a used clothing store.

“She was just really happy and grateful, and that’s when I knew what I had to do,” he said.

Sara Anderson and Vernon Black Eyes prepare to walk up to an Omaha elder's apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Finding hand sanitizer and toilet paper hasn’t been easy. Black Eyes has learned when semitrailers carrying groceries and supplies to retailers in and around Lincoln typically arrive and leaves at 6 a.m. most mornings to arrive when stores open.

He’s not alone, he said. People are usually lined up outside retail stores alongside him, waiting to gather many of the same supplies he gathers.

But he’s had the most success finding supplies in stores in small communities around Lincoln.

He said he never buys the last items of any shelf and has even begun making his own hand sanitizer using rubbing alcohol, aloe vera gel and essential oils, as well as sage extract, for smell.

At first, he distributed items in a church parking lot. A viral video on Twitter showing Black Eyes handing out hand sanitizer and toilet paper on a busy street on Saturday had 1.7 million views by Sunday evening. He later decided to start delivering them door-to-door after getting requests on Facebook.

Black Eyes, who owns a construction business in Lincoln, said people are grateful when he shows up to their home.

“It’s overwhelming because you wouldn’t expect somebody to give you that kind of praise over something so simple like hand sanitizer, but if you put yourself in their shoes, you’ll see that you have a real chance of not making it,” he said. “So I can see where the praise comes from.”

Sara Anderson, an Omaha Tribe citizen, said it’s become a mission for the couple to find and help elderly people in their community who are suffering from the effects of others who are stockpiling items.

“They’re letting this fear guide them,” she said. “It should be love guiding us. Let love guide you, not fear.”

On Sunday, the couple visited nearly a dozen homes in Lincoln and handed out bottles of hand sanitizer to people lined up outside a community center.

Sara Anderson, a citizen of the Omaha Tribe, gives a bottle of hand sanitizer to Betty Vance, an Omaha elder, in Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

An Omaha elder who uses a wheelchair, Betty Vance, said they are providing a valuable service to people like her.

“Within the last year, I get sick really easy,” she said. “This means a lot to me.”

“I really do appreciate this, and thank you very much.”

To help out with the efforts, you can donate to Black Eyes through PayPal at paypal.me/VBlackEyes.

Vernon Black Eyes, 32, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, prepares to leave his home and visit the homes of people in need of hand sanitizer in Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
A Pendleton bag holds bottles of hand sanitizer that Vernon Black Eyes distributed to elderly people and those with underlying health conditions in Lincoln, Nebraska, on March 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Vernon Black Eyes, 32, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, distributes bottles of hand sanitizer in Lincoln, Nebraska to people standing in line outside a community center on March 22, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

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