It’s no secret that Pike Place Market is bursting with delicious food. As you walk through the Market’s Arcade vendors hand you samples: a juicy slice of Asian pear, some vanilla-strawberry jam on a stick, chocolate spaghetti. On the cobblestone streets you make out the robust smell of fresh roasted coffee from Starbucks and the savory, warm sting of an onion piroshki.
However, just because there is an abundance of food at Pike Place Market doesn’t mean everyone is well-fed.
Pike Place Market has a tradition of supporting its most vulnerable neighbors. Reducing barriers to healthy food is at the heart of that mission. The Pike Market Senior Center offers two free meals a day. The Food Access Program provides Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes for low-income Market residents. The Food Bank does twice-weekly distribution of food, open to anyone. Food is a common ground that many of the Market’s social services stand on and behind the scenes are our most vulnerable neighbors, making these services sing.
You might not notice 84-year-old Tin Ma if you were making your way through the Market – tiny and stooped, she moves slowly after a knee injury forced her to stop working. But even though she can’t work anymore she can still volunteer and volunteer she does! She has been volunteering at the Pike Market Food Bank almost daily for 18 years. Underneath her striped bucket hat are bright eyes, a kind smile and a fierce determination.
As she winds her way through the crowds she is keeping an eye out for unfamiliar vendors and farmers. Tin Ma wastes no time when she finds someone new, her mission is clear. With little pomp or circumstance she introduces herself as a Food Bank volunteer and asks them if they will put aside leftover produce or baked goods at the end of the day. Then a band of volunteers or a classroom of Pike Market Preschool children are dispatched to all the vendors Tin Ma has recruited to collect their surplus for the Food Bank.
Ms. Decker, farm stand manager at Growing Washington is her most-recent recruit. As the only 100% local, 100% organic year-round farm stand in the Market, Ms. Decker was beyond excited to meet Tin Ma and learn about the Market’s Food Bank. “I get emotional about food and it breaks my heart to see this delicious, hand-grown food go to waste,” said Ms. Decker. “Plus, I’m a firm believer that healthy food needs to be accessible to people of all-income levels.”
Like most of the volunteers at the Food Bank, Tin Ma lines up just before they open the doors to the public to pick up her weekly groceries. She also shops the farmers in the Market using her EBT (food stamps) and doubling her purchase using Fresh Bucks, a matching program that helps low-income shoppers access fresh fruits and vegetables.
Tin Ma’s reason for giving so much of her time and energy is simple: when her son was young they didn’t have enough money for Christmas presents, so every year they would sign up with the Salvation Army. After her son was grown and there was no need for Christmas presents anymore Tin Ma decided to give back to the community by volunteering. Over the years, regardless of her circumstances, Tin Ma has consistently found powerful ways to positively impact her community. Tin Ma even received an award from the Mayor for her dedication to volunteerism. Thank you Tin Ma, from the bottom of our hearts.
We are constantly amazed by all of the incredible people who play a part in our thriving, caring community at Pike Place Market – from our donors who support our social services, to our volunteers who dedicated their time and talents. This holiday season we hope Tin Ma inspires each and every one of you to give back in your own special way.
To help us continue to provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables click here to donate!