Food Bank Innovations to meet the moment

At El Centro de la Raza, we meet our community where the community needs us.  Like any organization facing new challenges, the moment called for innovation when the pandemic hit. Food insecurity was on the rise, especially for our elderly on fixed incomes as prices rose and it was no longer safe for them to gather at our food bank.

As our supporters may recall, before we had a grocery store model. The community would select and gather what they needed on the ground floor of the historic building. It was a time many socialized and connected to their own cultures through food, as so many of us do.

But as the pandemic surged, many in our community started to fear for their health. Some who were immunocompromised feared even leaving their homes. Their need for food never declined, and in fact rose because the prices for basic staples soared, so we had to act fast and keep both the community and our staff safe.

We decided to move to a walking version of a “drive-through” model.  We moved our food bank to the basement where our senior lounge once was and transformed it into our staging and distribution grounds to assemble prepacked, nourishing grocery bags for pickup.  All staff wore masks to stay safe and we encouraged our clients to also do so to keep one another safe. 

Once we completed the assembly of these prepacked bags, we handed the bags to clients through an outside window, where our clients would meet us in a line, wearing masks, and keeping six feet of distance between each other to gather their groceries.  This pickup continues and takes place Thursdays and Fridays between 10:00AM – 12:00PM and 2:00PM – 4:00PM every week.

The next challenge we faced was that many of our clients feared leaving their homes due to COVID-19. In fact, most of our clients are vulnerable and over 60 years old.  To address this need, we started home deliveries on Wednesdays.

Once vaccines and boosters became more widely available, we saw more of our elderly feel safe enough to resume visiting our food bank in-person.  We also started to host vaccine clinics at our Seattle and Federal Way offices as often as possible. 

While we are glad to see a degree of stabilization in FY2022 from the initial fear in the community regarding the pandemic, inflation has caused new problems.  Prices have spiked for gas, rent, supplies and food, while people in our elderly community continue to do their best on the same fixed incomes.  Each bag costs more to assemble. Our food bank food demands are getting higher for more fresh produce items and protein as well as we become more of the primary source for some in our community. We try our best to order them as much as we can, but these are items our clients articulate a greater need for more than before. 

While demands grow among our clients, we are also seeing new clients, as a result of the rising costs of food. We will continue to welcome anyone who needs help without zip code restrictions for as long as we can.  We are here to serve and represent our Beloved Community and gladly share what has worked to meet their evolving and growing needs.

Returning Over a Quarter of a Million Dollars in Stolen Wages

The seven-year partnership with the City of Seattle Office of Labor Standards has allowed El Centro de la Raza to recover over $300,000 in wages for our Spanish-speaking workers in the community.  In 2022, we have recovered $40,000 already.

Through our Work Center, we are able to speak daily to workers who call in, and to deliver Know Your Rights (KYR) trainings to ensure workers are informed about Seattle labor standards.  We teach about local Seattle laws, state laws, federal laws, and workplace injuries.

In our community, Spanish-speaking workers suffer higher rates of labor violations in Seattle/King County. The two labor laws we see most frequently violated are wage theft and lack of paid sick time.

Our continuous partnership with Seattle Office of Labor Standards gives us hope and energy for the future. The impact that this work has on the community goes far beyond numbers and money. We focus on assuring dignity, respect and a better quality of life for all workers.

We hope to continue to expand our program to reach and empower workers to be able to defend themselves against the exploitation of their labor.

Good news in efforts to expand affordable housing into Columbia City!

On July 21, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who authored JumpStart legislation, announced $80 million in JumpStart housing awards that will fund projects creating or preserving 1,769 homes. Mosqueda stressed that these 20 projects coming online will follow community visions and meet community needs by including family-sized units and on-site services, such as daycares or education and job centers for youth who’ve experienced homelessness.

From those funds, El Centro de la Raza will receive funding for our Columbia City development, which will create 87 units for low-income families and individuals.