Free meals are just a part of the picture

Free meals are just a part of the picture
Ana Maria KingBy ana-maria

Volunteers serve nearly 20,000 free meals a year. Photo by David Inman

Hot Meal Program takes a community to build a community

by Mary Campbell and Krissie Dillin

One Tuesday evening, the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) Hot Meal Program prepared fresh blueberries from St. John United Lutheran’s community garden, bbq chicken, and baked potatoes.

Seven volunteers and the PNA Program Coordinator served this dinner to 60 low-income neighbors, but food was the least of what was offered.

The Hot Meal Program provides far more than a fresh-cooked meal—it nourishes the community with health and wellness support and works to foster a sense of connection between all members of the neighborhood.

Three times weekly, the PNA offers free and nutritious hot meals in two welcoming settings: St. John United Lutheran Church and the Greenwood Senior Center. Our meal program uses seasonal produce locally sourced and generously donated from participating farmers at the Phinney Farmers Market each Friday, as well as community gardeners from St. John’s.

Generous support from our neighbors also helps keep this program flourishing. In May, at the annual auction, 130 donors pledged $26,000 in support of the Hot Meal Program. And last Sept. 26, 33 local restaurants donated a portion of their day’s proceeds on Pig Out to Root Out Hunger Day.

In addition to meals, the Hot Meal Program works to strengthen the social networks that help keep people healthier and safer. Local healthcare provider Neighborcare visits the program monthly to offer services such as blood pressure checks and talk with diners about services available at their free Ballard clinic. Neighborcare provides services for adults who are experiencing homelessness or living without safe, stable and secure housing. They also serve people who live in permanent supportive housing, providing medical care, mental health care, and medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.

The PNA is also excited to welcome local police officers for regular visits to the hot meal program, with the intent of developing relationships with diners, building trust, answering questions, and addressing concerns.

Above all, staff and volunteers are central to this community-building work. The program has recently added a new program coordinator to the team as well as three new enthusiastic weekly volunteers.

Volunteers help diners like Kevin. Kevin, a regular, was having dental issues, making it difficult to eat. Although he has basic health insurance, he still wasn’t able to access proper care. An incredible and concerned volunteer, Gabby, sat down with him to make calls to dentists on his behalf. She connected Kevin with North Seattle Public Health, made an appointment for the following day. After surgery, Kevin was back dining with us within a week. Something as simple as a loose tooth prevented Kevin from having regular meals.

Volunteers like Gabby are able to help our diners connect with community resources to access the care they need. Volunteers also come from local businesses and organizations, such as a recent group from local business Wheelhouse/DMG. This is an excellent opportunity for companies looking for diverse and inclusive volunteer opportunities.

Wednesday, Sept. 25, offers an easy way to provide meals to those who need them: simply eat and drink out at participating restaurants, cafes, and bars for this year’s Pig Out to Root Out Hunger day and a portion of your bill will be donated to the program.

Thank you again to those who have contributed to this vital program at the auction and beyond. If you would like to get involved, visit our Hot Meal Program page or contact Krissie Dillin at [email protected].

Susan talking to a man in the background

hands cutting tomato, preparing a salad

(L) Hot Meal Program Coordinator Susan Russell makes it a point to connect warmly with volunteers, partners, and diners to build community. (R) The PNA Hot Meal Program prioritizes serving fresh ingredients and produce. Photos by David Inman.