Following the initial announcement of school closures for all Seattle Public Schools in March of 2020, there was a significant impact for many students and families in the Rainier Beach community.
The most immediate impact was a surge in food insecurity for the many families that rely on the school breakfast and lunch provided by the district’s daily meal program. At the time of closure, roughly 75% of the students who attend Rainier Beach High School and Emerson Elementary qualified for free and reduced price lunch. In response to school closures, WA-BLOC, a community-based organization embedded in Southeast Seattle schools, quickly organized “Feed the Beach,” a food-access effort to provide free, hot meals every Tuesday and Thursday to students and families in the Rainier Beach neighborhood.
In the spring and summer months of 2020, Feed the Beach was hosted in the Rainier Beach Community Center Plaza for a few hours at a time, one or two days each week.
The location, at the corner of Rainier Avenue and Henderson Street, made the hot meals accessible to students, families and community members alike. During Feed the Beach, the RBCC Plaza transformed into a space of shared meals, shared experience and shared joy. One of the very first Feed the Beach partners was the local South End restaurant Super Six. The partnership encouraged other local businesses to take part in supporting the new program.
Over the past year, Feed the Beach has served as an avenue for local restaurants to connect with and support the community through the pandemic. Super Six shared via Facebook, “Between special malasadas, fundraisers and teaming up with WA-BLOC (and other orgs) to feed the people, we feel blessed to be a part of this city and to be able to give back to our community.”
With the changing weather at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, WA-BLOC knew the Feed the Beach model would need to pivot in order to continue to sustain the community.
Committed to serving Rainier Beach students, WA-BLOC redirected resources specifically to support Rainier Beach High School families through a weekly delivery model that would allow them to still enjoy hot meals prepared by local Black, Filipinx, Latinx, Hawaiian and East African-owned food businesses without having to leave home or be subjected to the colder weather.
A Rainier Beach High School mother shared, “My family and I appreciate the support during this time. The smallest thing of having lunch once a week I don’t have to prepare has meant so much to me. My children get excited to see what lunch is going to be every Friday.”
Families have enjoyed gumbo, stew, huli huli chicken, teriyaki and more through WA-BLOC’s partnership with That Brown Girl Cooks!, Musang, Super Six and City Teriyaki, along with many others. For almost a year, Beach Bakery has donated fresh baked chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies for WA-BLOC to distribute each week for families. Over the course of the school year, deliveries have included hot meals and staple grocery items, as well as grocery gift cards to support other food, hygiene and gas needs.
Through Feed the Beach, WA-BLOC actively seeks partnerships with local BIPOC-owned restaurants, chefs and caterers who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 to provide the hot meals. WA-BLOC started Feed the Beach programming on March 13, 2020, and to date, the program has served over 7,000 hot meals, distributed $50,000 in emergency financial relief to 100 families, partnered with and reinvested more than $50,000 in 16 local BIPOC restaurants and chefs in the Southeast Seattle region, provided six months of weekly grocery support to 30 families and supplied $7,500 in grocery gift cards.
One full year of Feed the Beach, despite the longevity of the pandemic, has helped to foster connection, partnership and support in and around the Rainier Beach community. Being a small team, WA-BLOC has had to periodically assess capacity and make adjustments to the program along the way, but the community is what has made the effort sustainable nonetheless. Amazing South End restaurants take time to prepare hundreds of delicious hot meals for the program; other community organizations and partners donate extra food or basic need items to be distributed; community members drop off clean handled paper bags to the WA-BLOC office for grocery deliveries; teachers and neighbors alike donate stimulus checks to keep Feed the Beach funded; and people continue to elevate Feed the Beach on Instagram and Facebook to spread awareness, which encourages people to support in whichever way they are willing and able. It is important to acknowledge that families will continue to face challenges with food access even after the pandemic. WA-BLOC is committed to sustaining Feed the Beach through the pandemic and beyond.
Right now, WA-BLOC is getting ready to take a short break from Feed the Beach to plan and prepare for its summer literacy program, Freedom Schools, which will take place virtually and serve students at Emerson Elementary. A key element of Freedom Schools programming is “harambee,” which is a Kiswahili word that means “let’s pull together.” Feed the Beach embodies this phrase as it requires the effort and support of so many in and around the community.
Starting back at the beginning of June, WA-BLOC will be returning to the Rainier Beach Community Center Plaza to host Feed the Beach as a community-facing food support — a point of safe, in-person connection for Freedom Schools scholars and their families and a place to pull together to help meet the food-access needs of the Rainier Beach community.
To stay up to date about Feed the Beach programming and ways to support the program, visit WA-BLOC on Facebook at Facebook.com/wabloc or on Instagram by following @wa_bloc. Donations to help fund Feed the Beach can be made at wa-bloc.org/donate.
Editor’s note: Publication of an opinion piece does not mean Seattle’s Child or its staff endorses the views of the author.