“In Spring 2020, public health professionals said ‘this pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint’… That’s what our role in the food security picture of downtown Seattle is like: and this is a marathon we’ve been running for 40 years.” – Mason Lowe, Deputy Director of the Pike Market Senior Center & Food Bank
The Pike Place Market Foundation’s legacy partner, Pike Market Food Bank, has spent nearly half a century helping our downtown neighbors get the food they need. While the COVID-19 pandemic revealed much about food insecurity to the greater public, it also confirmed what our partners have known for years: economic instability and racial disparities systemically impact our community’s ability to access high-quality, nutritious food.
By centering our partnership with service agencies and providing reliable unrestricted funding for them to invest in systems and staff, we can better reduce barriers as a community and ensure that our neighborhood has access to healthy groceries and meals.
Pivoting services to reach emerging needs
In March 2020 when COVID-19 hit Seattle, the stay-at-home order made clear that seniors, people with disabilities, and those especially vulnerable to COVID should not be leaving their homes to find groceries. Our partners at the Pike Market Food Bank quickly pivoted from their grocery store model to a takeaway window, and increased at-home food delivery service.
“We worked with The Market Commons to assess all residents of Pike Place Market PDA housing and figure out what everyone needed,” said Angie Wood, the Food Bank Manager. Through a close collaboration between PDA residential managers, the Pike Market Senior Center & Food Bank, and The Market Commons, the Emergency Food Distribution Program provided 989 emergency grocery bags and 15,737 emergency meals to ensure senior residents in the Market had access to food without risking their health and safety.
“We were forced to innovate because of the pandemic,” says Mason. “But we discovered a lot of models and modes of service that we will keep with us. We have learned a lot of good lessons.”
The pandemic proves the need for home delivery
Ongoing community feedback and conversations with partners have shown that food delivery in our neighborhood is an essential service that needs to continue, regardless of the pandemic.
“These are programs that our clients needed before COVID and will need them long after,” says Jeannie Falls, Executive Director of the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank. “During the pandemic, we were able to meet that need in new ways and help the program grow, whereas before, we didn’t have the capacity or funding.”
Continuing to invest in growing food security needs
The past two years proved just how important it is for our service partners to have dedicated, unrestricted support: so they can address current gaps in our social and community support systems and quickly pivot to meet emerging needs in the future.
“The work done at the Food Bank is complicated and important,” emphasizes Mason. “To be a reliable community resource, we need staff and support.”
A critical investment for the Food Bank’s post-COVID model will be in the form of a new delivery van, made possible through a Rachel’s Reserve grant. This specialized, reliable vehicle for the Food Bank will help maintain their current home delivery program and help support the Food Bank’s continued evolution.
“It’s so great that we’re going to be able to get a van that is a really good fit,” said Angie. “The van makes all the difference, getting food out to the clients.” Whereas their previous van was meant for heavy-duty cargo pickups, this new vehicle will be specially optimized for the 120 core delivery households they serve in our neighborhood every week. This investment will also help support operations of the onsite pantry service they provide to 5 different buildings, and the 200 other delivery households they serve through partnership with United Way and Doordash.
Looking ahead to the future
In 2022, we continue to see our community partners maintaining a critical network of services and support for the Market community. “Partnerships have evolved our capacity and allowed us to bring a systemic, strategic approach to home delivery,” said Angie. “This is how we can build something equitable and sustainable, and practice it here before expanding into other areas of the community.”
Equitable food has always been at the heart of the mission of the Market, and this value extends to every member of our neighborhood, regardless of their income or ability to pay. Together, we are building a model for a strong, healthy, and diverse community where everyone is able to access the nutritious food they need to thrive.