Since 1979, Pike Market Senior Center has been more than just a warm, safe place to enjoy a hot meal, but a caring community serving seniors in downtown Seattle. Much like the Medical Clinic, the Senior Center was founded to help fill critical service gaps to support the downtown population of seniors displaced by urban development and the rising cost of living.
“Poverty and physical disability leave the elderly and low-income residents of downtown Seattle with little control over their neighborhood,” described a 1987 study by board member Anne Focke that was published by the Ford Foundation. “They are the first to be displaced when development seeks the ‘highest and best’ use for a site. As the Market Foundation has learned, however, the elderly and low-income residents of downtown Seattle have long taproots into the area and their contributions are great, though overlooked.”
The Senior Center offers a community space where these seniors can socialize, enjoy nourishing meals, access housing services, and engage in wellness activities. As a partner, the Market Foundation supports the vital work of the Senior Center through funding, relationship building, and specific programs like Bulk Buy that help offset operating costs for the meal program. These service offerings are essential to our community, as most senior center members live on little or no income, nearly half are unhoused, and most are at risk of social isolation.
By the 2000s, the Senior Center had expanded service and grown in numbers to the point where they were outgrowing their current space. The Market Foundation’s “Care for the Market” campaign raised $1.85 million to build new and expanded facilities, including a new, larger Senior Center, which opened in 2006. The new kitchen expanded to serve nearly 60,000 lunches – double the previous capacity. The Senior Center was then better equipped to serve approximately 1,000 seniors who utilized the daily meals, employment services, companionship, recreational and social services.
In 2020 when a global pandemic threatened our neighborhood and many resources around the city were suddenly unavailable, staff at the Senior Center sprang into action to keep our community healthy and stable. “There weren’t as many meal programs in Seattle open because of the COVID risk, almost everything closed down,” said Jeannie Falls, Executive Director of the Senior Center and Food Bank. In response, the Pike Market Senior Center stayed open and expanded meal offerings, adding dinner to-go in addition to hot breakfast and lunch. As residents sheltered in place, Senior Center case managers worked with staff at The Commons to ensure members in Market housing still had access to nutritious food and remained socially connected.
Pike Place Market is a wonderful microcosm of a supportive community,” says Jeannie. “And it’s because there’s a network of social services. The Market Foundation, The Commons, and the PDA (Preservation and Development Authority) all work together with us to create a supportive community so that people don’t fall through the cracks.” As seniors continue to face the threat of COVID and rising inflation while living on fixed incomes, we will continue to direct funding, resources and support towards the critical work of Senior Center staff.