by Paul Nelson
Ask the head of a small business “how’s business?” and you hope to get a positive response, unless it’s Sam Osborne, the Executive Director of the Rainier Valley Food Bank. Unfortunately, business there is booming, making the 7th Annual Chow Down fundraiser as important as ever.
This event to benefit the RVFB has grown to now include 27 participating bars and restaurants in Columbia and Hillman Cities. Miguel Jimenez, the Food Bank’s Development and Communications Manager says Chow Down is a great chance to sample the fare at local restaurants, and that event tickets are called “passports.”
“…We are by far the most diverse community in Seattle… The beauty of this neighborhood is that it’s all these people blending together. Our food cuisines are a representation of our community as well.”
Chow Down is not just for eating. Jimenez said six venues served “adult beverages” including Lottie’s Lounge, a long time participant, who was offering a “jello shot mojito” this year. As the son of a Cuban immigrant, I told him this was blasphemy and he did not deny it, but that’s how we started our own Chow Down experience, as photos document.
The last stop was the Union Bar, home of the world-famous Wobblies softball team. The chicken taco was a good finisher as I left my tip and paid my bill for the extras I enjoyed, highly recommended when you find a place where you want to linger.
There was one last question I asked of Osborne and Jimenez and that was about Columbia City being one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the city, where the contrast of haves and have nots is stark.
Jimenez said the contrast bothers him every day.
“For us it isn’t just about this transactional interaction that we have. We are community organizers who do it through the lens of food. Our opportunity is to bring people together and say these institutions are no longer working for us. What are we going to build in this world that’s going to be more equitable for everyone? We don’t just distribute food at the food bank. We participate in civic engagement. We advocate in City Hall and in Olympia. We believe in providing people with the education, the tools so that they can empower themselves and advocate for themselves…”
Osborne adds: “In a month typically we’re feeding about 22,000 people… Last year we saw 21% increase, so 2015, 2016, we had a huge jump… We work pretty hard to try to figure out new creative ways to reach people who might otherwise be afraid or not know how to access our services or there may be cultural barriers.”
If you think PCC is the attractor of gentrification, and it might be since it moved from its long-time Seward Park location, be advised that PCC is a HUGE contributor to the RVFB.
Every other month PCC donates a pallet of culturally relevant dried goods they purchase on the Food Bank’s behalf: A couple of thousand pounds of short grain brown rice, brown sugar, red lentils and mung beans.
Locally-grown food is also purchased by the Food Bank, from the Seattle Community Farm and Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, showing that food handed out to people in need can be as nutritious as food anyone anywhere can eat.
Paul Nelson is a poet, interviewer, father and literary activist engaged in a 20-year bioregional cultural investigation of Cascadia. He currently lives in Rainier Beach.