Organizations That Help Fight Hunger and Support Restaurant Workers in Seattle

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A view of a field with baskets of produce in the foreground and a large truck in the background displaying the Food Lifeline logo

As one of the first cities to feel the severe impacts of COVID-19 in the U.S., Seattle has endured staggering loss — but also shown its resilience. Whether it’s chefs starting community kitchens, grassroots groups forming to aid their neighbors, or nonprofits serving those who need a free meal, the city’s helpers have stepped up in a major way.

Yet there’s so much work yet to be done. With passionate demonstrations for social justice highlighting inequities in society, it’s more urgent than ever to push for greater food access among marginalized communities. And as the restaurant industry reels from the economic impacts of various shutdowns, workers at the lower end of the pay scale still need support, especially as emergency federal aid has run dry with new relief nowhere in site.

For those who want to do their part — whether by donating money, time, or both — it can seem tough to decide the best place to devote resources. That’s why Eater Seattle has compiled a select list of nonprofits, mutual aid organizations, and other opportunities in the region that are showing an impact when it comes to addressing hunger, restaurant support, and food justice.

Editors have done their best to vet the groups included here, but it’s always important to make sure each organization aligns with one’s values, with a transparent, proven track record. When in doubt, giving cash is always a good call, because charities tend to know where the greatest need is. And it never hurts to reach out and ask, for those who are still unsure on the best way to contribute.

Mutual Aid Groups

These networks are generally not affiliated with any government-led organization or official nonprofit, but rather rely on grassroots organizing through spreadsheets, Facebook groups, Google Doc signups or other informal means. This is perhaps the most direct form of participation, and have been an outlet for many home cooks to keep people fed during the pandemic. They have also helped distribute food and supplies for Black Lives Matter protesters, particularly in Seattle where mutual aid groups helped drive support for the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). Here are some notable ones that are currently active.

COVID-19 Solidarity Network: In March, this group created a fund to support the community through grocery deliveries, community pantries, and direct cash grants to support undocumented workers, the formerly incarcerated, and others. It’s still accepting donations through GoFundMe and organizing resources around the effort.

COVID-19 Mutual Aid South King County and the Eastside: This network provides services (including grocery delivery) for immunocompromised people, undocumented workers, BIPOC, and the LGBTQ+ community. The group is looking for both volunteers and donations, particularly groceries for South Seattle families in need. It paused for a couple of weeks in October to go through backlogged requests, but is resuming October 31.

We Got This Seattle: Local science writer Ellen Kuwana started this initiative and has fed thousands of frontline health workers across multiple sites since the spring. Pagliacci Pizza, Zaika, FOB Poke Bar, Top Pot Doughnuts, Cook Weaver, Rubinstein Bagels, Portage Bay Cafe, and several others were among the restaurants contributing meals. Kuwana is still running the operation on her own, though, and is looking for donations to keep it going.

Northwest Bread Bakers: This collective of amateur bakers organized through Facebook aim to help new bakers learn the craft and lend support to start-up businesses. It recently launched an initiative called “Community Loaves” which delivers bread to community partners like Hopelink, supporting 3,000 families per week.

Tacoma Mutual Aid Collective: This grassroots group works with the Tacoma community to generate resources and services across several neighborhoods. It has two active food programs: a COVID-related free food delivery that has been going on since March, and a supply hub that distributes meals, snacks, and other supplies to protesters and those experiencing housing insecurity. It accepts donations here.

Food Lifeline is one of the main distributors to food banks across Washington.

Food Lifeline [Official Photo]

Volunteer Opportunities

Giving time is one of the best ways to show active support for food-related charities and other groups around the city. While COVID-19 prevention measures limit many in-person interactions, the following organizations have put in place various safety protocols aimed to protect volunteers and those who rely on their services. Now, more than ever, many organizations need helping hands — especially food banks, who have seen a steep drop-off in people assisting since the COVID-19 crisis began, due to the older demographic of volunteers. Here are the groups looking for participants.

Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle: In partnership with Byrd Barr place, this 90 year-old organization — which has a wide variety of programs and advocacy initiatives — has been delivering groceries to families in need each month. It’s also looking for volunteers to help with office management and homeless outreach.

United Way King County: In partnership with local food banks, the well-known Seattle branch of the national organization is offering free home delivery of food boxes during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as free meals for families during school closures. Volunteer and donation opportunities can be found here.

Food Lifeline: One of the main distributors to food banks across Washington state, this group partners with 300 food banks, shelters, and meal programs to provide nutritious meals to those in need. It faced a volunteer shortage earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, and hopes to bring in more now to increase capacity.

City Fruit: This local nonprofit helps harvest fruit from hundreds of households in the Seattle area, then distributes the produce free to community partners across the city. It’s currently seeking volunteers for a new campaign called Food Counts. Anyone who wants to help harvest, donate fruit, or otherwise support the effort can sign up here.

North Helpline: This North Seattle-based emergency services and food bank operation serves the Lake City and Bitter Lake neighborhoods. It’s actively looking for volunteers for picking up groceries, doing deliveries, organizing food drives, and other tasks. Those interested can email [email protected] for inquiries.

Northwest Harvest: This statewide organization aims to increase access to nutritious food for the hungry, with a network of 375 food banks, meal programs and high-need schools. In King County, there are volunteer opportunities at the Sodo Community Market for sorting and assisting guests.

A collection of takeout boxes for Seattle Community Kitchen Collective at Musang

Musang launched a community kitchen this spring with other Seattle restaurants and chefs.

Musang/Instagram

Hunger Relief: Food Banks, Pantries, and Community Kitchens

One of the most vital services one can do during these difficult times is to give hungry people a meal. Many of the food banks mentioned in the volunteer section fit that bill, but the following organizations are also in need of some financial support to develop their programs. Together, they have served hundreds of thousands of meals in Seattle to families in need, seniors, disabled people, and the community at large since the COVID-19 pandemic began — and are still going strong.

Seattle Community Kitchen Collective: In March, Beacon Hill Filipino restaurant Musang transformed its space into a community kitchen serving those in the area who needed a hot meal. It has since grown to include other chefs, pop-ups and restaurants, including That Brown Girl Cooks!, Sugar Hill, Hood Famous Bakeshop, Expat Supper Club, Guerrilla Pizza Kitchen, and chef Tarik Abdullah’s Feed the People initiative. Info on how to donate via Venmo can be found on Musang’s website.

Ballard Food Bank: Established in the late 70s, this organization has fed area families in need for decades, and has a financial program aimed at preventing evictions. It’s currently building a new facility for next fall, which will help the food bank serve new areas and reach 1,700 households per week by 2022. Donations are still being accepted as the current location remains in operation.

FareStart: This organization offers restaurant service jobs training to people struggling with poverty, addiction, homelessness, or a criminal record. It also runs a community kitchen that has served over 800,000 emergency meals since the beginning of the crisis, and accepts donations.

FeedMe Hospitality and Restaurant Group: This Edmonds-based restaurant company has several different charitable efforts going on, including feeding health workers through a community kitchen at the seafood restaurant Salt & Iron. It also launched a school lunch program for the fall for kids learning remotely.

Filipino Community of Seattle Senior Meal Program: For more than 20 years, this organization in South Seattle has served lunches and provided other support services for Filipino seniors, with a special dietician on hand. Nearby restaurant Archipelago has donated a portion of proceeds from its Balikbayan box sales to the program, but the community center also accepts direct donations.

WA Food Fund: This new relief fund, organized through Philanthropy Northwest, supports food banks and pantries across the state, helping them maintain supplies and distribution capacity. It’s an increasingly vital function as buying power and reserves have been drastically reduced during the pandemic, and the fund accepts donations.

Lifelong: The organization has long been devoted to helping those impacted by HIV, and now has focused efforts at feeding seniors and high-risk individuals living in isolation during the pandemic. The program has a meal sponsorship program that could use donations.

Pike Market Food Bank: The Pike Place-based organization distributes free groceries to the downtown community. During the pandemic, it has adjusted its operations by distributing pre-packaged grocery bags and pausing food donations. The group is still accepting monetary donations, however.

West Seattle Food Bank: The West Seattle-based group focusing on food insecurity and issues of systemic injustices merged earlier this spring with West Seattle Helpline, which allows it to provide more wraparound services for the neighborhood’s homeless population. It’s currently accepting donations.

Tai Tung owner Harry Chan (at the right) and a young woman holding a takeout box stand in front of the restaurant’s iconic sign.

Tai Tung was one of the recipients of a small business relief fund for the International District.

SCIDPDA [Official Photo]

Worker and Restaurant Relief

The Seattle restaurant industry has endured steep job losses due to COVID-19, and relief needs to continue, since — as noted in the intro to this article — federal relief is nonexistent at the moment. The following organizations span a range of services, from providing relief to restaurants themselves so they can stay afloat (including free legal counsel and monetary grants), to supporting bartenders and wait staff that have been laid off from their jobs, to developing a safety net for farmers in the Eastern part of the state.

The Plate Fund: This new initiative — which former Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz launched in April — delivers $500 in one-time payments to King County restaurant workers who either recently lost their jobs or had hours severely cut back during the pandemic. While it’s no longer accepting donations, it is continuing to accept applications and distribute funds to those in need.

Communities Rise: This organization has set up a virtual clinic that provides free legal advice for small businesses, like restaurants, impacted by COVID-19. Volunteer attorneys provide 60-minute remote consultations, and the group is looking for more legal, fundraising, and grantwriting professionals.

SLU Chamber Small Business and Nonprofit Relief Fund: With area tech companies mostly instituting work from home policies until 2021, the businesses around South Lake Union have seen a steep drop in business. This fund aims to help restaurants and other establishments with a series of grants, and is looking for donations to reach its goal of $250,000.

CID Restaurants and Other Small Business Relief Fund: The money collected from this fund aims to direct financial support to the International District, which has been impacted a great deal by COVID-19 and racism against Asian-owned businesses. A third round of grants has been announced, and donations are still being accepted.

Seattle Tip Jar: This website allows donors to give cash directly to former staff in the service industry who have been laid off or furloughed. The money can be sent randomly or viewed via a list of workers who have signed up to the site, organized by what restaurant employed them.

La Casa Hogar: The Yakima-based organization focusing on helping Latinx families in the Yakima Valley has teamed up with Sunnyside, Washington-based organization Nuestra Casa to launch an emergency relief fund. The money will go to covering basic needs for Yakima Valley families who may be out of work (or are hesitant to work due to health concerns) and have little or no access to government support.

A community table with food, drinks, and flowers, illustrating FEEST, a Seattle-based organization of young BIPOC leaders

FEEST began in 2008 as part of the King County Food and Fitness Initiative.

FEEST [Official Photo]

Food Justice, Education, and Advocacy

Providing sustenance to those experiencing economic crises during COVID-19 can’t ignore the deep injustices embedded in food systems for BIPOC. Several of these organizations attempt to address some of those issues, whether it’s fighting for immigrant rights and food sovereignty, increasing access to healthy meals within marginalized communities, feeding protesters. or developing a more equitable food culture.

FEEST: This Seattle-based organization of young BIPOC leaders works to advocate and uphold food accessibility and security in lower-income areas of the city. It’s currently open to donations, and has launched a program to provide prepaid Visa cards for families to buy groceries.

Food Innovation Network: A program of Global to Local, this organization’s aims to increase access to healthy food for the community in the SeaTac/Tukwila and South King County area. There are programs such as the Spice Bridge Kitchen, which is a business incubator for under-resourced residents, primarily immigrants and refugees, and monetary donations are welcome. Its food hall in Tukwila opened in September.

Black Coffee Northwest: Shoreline’s new Black-owned cafe is also a community center, with social justice work at the forefront. The nonprofit launched a voter registration drive in October, and will roll out several youth-driven initiatives, including a barista training program, an after-school study hour, and a series of conversations revolving around pressing issues, such as homelessness.

Community to Community Development: This women-led grassroots organization in Bellingham is dedicated to immigrants rights and food sovereignty (the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sustainable methods). It’s currently accepting donations.

GRuB: Garden-Raised Bounty is a local nonprofit that aims to promote a more healthy food system within the community. It has several COVID-19-related resources, including a backyard garden building program, and it’s accepting donations.

Black Farmers Collective: This group of local activists aims to create more opportunities for BIPOC growers, preparers, and educators, while promoting health in the community. It has four acres of land in Woodinville which the organization will use as a teaching farm, and could use some money for a tractor right now, as well as volunteers to help at its Central District Yes Farm.

Good Farmer Fund: With COVID-19 having devastating impacts on Washington’s agriculture industry, this fund — which has been around since 2008 providing relief grants to local farms — is more vital than ever. It’s run through the Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets organization, and is accepting donations.

Salsa De La Vida: This co-op at Marra Farm in South Park is entirely led by Latinx women, and looks to promote food development and economic justice through a self-sustaining model. Those who work on the farm produce ingredients for salsa — supplied to local restaurants and markets — and are supported by the local nonprofit Villa Comunitaria. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships are available.

Riot Kitchen: What started as a small volunteer-based kitchen to feed people in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area around Cal Anderson park, is now a nonprofit. The organization is raising money through GoFundMe to help start a food truck that will serve the community, and continue to feed protesters, as well as anybody in need. The organization has attempted to feed protesters in other cities as well, including Kenosha, Wisconsin, where members were arrested and then released this past summer. But it recently set up shop again at Cal Anderson.

Tilth Alliance: This organization collaborates with local farmers, gardeners, and other community stakeholders to work toward a more equitable equitable food future, whether it’s through cooking classes, farm training, or other means. During the pandemic, Tilth has Zoom classes, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, and other resources. It’s accepting donations, too.

Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at [email protected]