King County restaurants were some of the businesses most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Global supply chain disruptions and restrictions associated with the March 2020 “Stay Home Stay Healthy” order temporarily shut down indoor dining, leaving many restaurants scrambling to survive. At the same time, food insecurity across the region was on the rise.
Seattle Good Business Network – a nonprofit organization with a mission to connect and inspire people to buy, produce, and invest locally – worked to address these connected food and economic insecurity issues through their Good Food Kitchens initiative, which was aimed at alleviating the economic impacts of the pandemic.
Launched in October 2020, Good Food Kitchens is focused on food assistance, economic development, and local food resilience serving King County. The program provides funds directly to restaurants to prepare meals for those experiencing food insecurity; supports restaurant owners in keeping their businesses open and workers employed; and assists purchasing from local farms and producers to create long-term supply chain relationships. Most importantly, Good Food Kitchens works with restaurants that reflect the culturally relevant and dietary needs of the community.
“Good Food Kitchens was created to address the needs of the entire local food system,” said Mariah DeLeo, the program manager of the Local Food Economy. “It is not just a food assistance program – one that importantly ensures people in need receive fresh, nutritious, culturally relevant meals – but it is also an economic assistance program, an employment assistance program, and a local food system resilience program.”
According to the 2020 Washington State Food Security Survey, 30% of households in King County were experiencing food insecurity and more than half of those households included children. Of those surveyed, people of color were 1.5 times more likely to be food insecure than their white counterparts, with South Seattle and South King County experiencing a higher rate of food insecurity than anywhere else in the county.
Origins of Good Food Kitchens
Early in the pandemic, the Seattle Good Business Network learned about efforts to address food insecurity in the greater Seattle area by the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective. The collective consisted of four local chefs and businesses, That Brown Girl Cooks!, Musang, Feed the People, and Guerilla Pizza Kitchen. The businesses owners saw how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting the community and went into action.
“They were able to pivot to care for their communities at a time of increased need and helped keep their staff employed and less at risk of needing the same support themselves,” said DeLeo.
Seeing the impact of the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective and looking for inspiration to guide the work at the Seattle Good Business Network, DeLeo started tracking other food security initiatives inside and outside of Washington.
“We were also following the work of World Central Kitchen, who was funding community kitchens like these across the country and sought to connect them with the restaurants in our own region,” DeLeo said. “When this effort didn’t materialize, we decided to create Good Food Kitchens and fill the role ourselves.”
When discussing what the Good Food Kitchens program would look like, equity, access and supporting grassroots/community led initiatives were the guiding principles.
“Making sure that we were providing equity and access and we knew that we wanted people who were already making the food for the communities who were asking for specific dietary things. We didn’t want to ask someone who had never made, let’s say halal meals before, just suddenly start making halal meals,” said project manager Jessica Tousignant.
“So, it just sort of became an organic process of like what is needed, who is already doing this, who can we support in this effort,” Tousignant said. “In terms of providing true service for what was needed, instead of implementing our own perspective and not being part of the conversation prior to that like who needs these meals, who’s already doing this work, how can we support them because it really has nothing to do with us, it’s more how do we support what already exists.”
Thanks to funding from Harvest Against Hunger’s King County Farmers Share program and King Conservation District Regional Food System grant and countless hours of strategic planning from the Seattle Good Business Network team, the Good Food Kitchens pilot took off. The Good Food Kitchens program supported the work of those in the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective, starting with That Brown Girl Cooks!, adding Musang and then expanding to new partners who were collectively providing meals to senior centers, housing organizations, community centers, and homeless services agencies.
Keeping true to the initial process that the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective had set up, the Good Food Kitchens pilot supported community kitchens that already had partnerships with local organizations. The restaurants provide them with culturally relevant meals and determined logistics, while the Good Food Kitchens team provides funding, promotion, and connections to local producers.
Now more established and with more funding, Good Food Kitchens continues to support existing community kitchens and has also opened the process up to new partners. Local organizations whose community members are experiencing food insecurity can fill out a Partner Application clearly stating individual needs and dietary restrictions. Restaurants that are interested in joining can fill out a Restaurant Partner application.
Partner applicants are matched with a local restaurant that fits specific needs, and the restaurant orders produce and other goods from local vendors and farmers to ensure fresh, locally sourced, and nutritional meals. Restaurants coordinate pick up or drop off meal times and locations. It is a multifaceted matchmaking process with a big impact.
In 2021, the Good Food Kitchens program channeled $105,570 to 25 restaurants and catering partners who have provided 10,557 meals to 19 community organizations and directly to individuals in need, sourcing ingredients from 10 local farms. Participating restaurants were able to support an average of 13 additional hours of staffing a week to their operations. The Seattle Good Business Network is growing the Good Food Kitchens program and expects to meet the goal of supporting the creation and distribution of 70,000 meals by the end of 2022.
Supporting a larger food economy
Good Food Kitchens is a sub program in the Seattle Good Business Network’s Good Food Economy, program, which DeLeo said has one goal in mind.
“Our goal was to weave the threads tying all of this food programming together to help build a network of businesses and organizations across the local food system, connecting them around market opportunities, resources, and information sharing to strengthen the local food pipeline.” DeLeo said.
In addition to the Good Food Kitchens program, the Good Food Economy program supports:
A free business-to-business resource to facilitate new market opportunities, match resources, and share events, knowledge, and share the best practices between farmers, fishers, food manufacturers, distributors, food recovery and more.
A bi-annual prix fixe dining promotion that gives diners a unique chance to support the greater Seattle culinary community.
A free opportunity for food and farm businesses to learn from industry experts and experienced colleagues through a week of virtual panels, presentations, and networking activities. Food Biz Week is hosted by Business Impact NW and partners with the Farm-To-Table Trade Meeting, which is hosted Sustainable Connections and co-organized by Seattle Good Business Network.
A series of stories from Seattle restaurants that support the Seattle community and the economy.
An interactive map of Seattle-area restaurant pantries, prepare-at-home meals, and community kitchens.
A series of three virtual workshops to provide meaningful peer learning and partnership-building opportunities across the Puget Sound regional food system in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
This partnership ensures restaurant partners and local farms followed their principles, including food justice. More recently, the Good Food Economy program has partnered with the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority, Wasat, and Food Innovation Network in supporting 20 restaurants and caterers to serving 14 different community organizations and so far sourcing from one local farmer.
“One of the central tenets of our Good Food Economy program is food justice, and we have focused our support on BIPOC and immigrant and refugee-owned businesses and communities, as they have been the hardest hit by the pandemic on top of historic inequities, which includes 97% of our restaurant partners and 81% of local farms,” DeLeo said. “These partnerships are what have allowed Good Food Kitchens to grow our support of so many new restaurant and community organization partners with our additional funding from the city [of Seattle].”
When asked what people can do to support the Good Food Kitchens and the work that is being done at the Seattle Good Business Network, Tousignant said: “The best thing and the easiest thing anyone can do is donate to the Good Food Kitchens; they can go out to Seattle Restaurant Week, when participants will have the chance to participate in a fun contest that will give them gift cards to other restaurants; but the easiest thing they can do is donate and follow us online so they can be updated on what’s going on.”
To learn more about Seattle Good Business Network and support their work, visit Seattlegood.org.