Photo depicting a participant shopping for groceries at a FamilyWorks food bank.

Capacity Building Grant Applications Now Open to Support Food Equity

by Lauryn Bray

Applications for the City of Seattle’s Food Equity Fund (FEF) Capacity Building Grant opened on May 1. The Department of Neighborhoods will accept applications until Oct. 31 and will review them on a rolling basis. The City encourages BIPOC-led community organizations, tribal organizations, and nonprofits with 501(c)(3) status working within Seattle to create equitable and sustainable local food systems to apply.

“We really see how critical it is to make this type of investment in these community-led practices,” said Marcia Wright-Soika, executive director of FamilyWorks, a recipient of a 2022 General Grant. “It really has been transformative in the kinds of foods that we’re able to offer, the ways that we’re able to invest back into the local economy, as well as to boost the number of BIPOC growers, producers and distributors, [and] goods that we’re offering to people who have been marginalized by food injustice and insecurity.”

FamilyWorks is a social services organization based in Seattle. At its Wallingford location, the organization operates a resource center and a food bank. They also have a food bank located in Greenwood. 

According to Wright-Soika, the extra funding has made quite an impact. “The investment of the FEF grant has definitely allowed us to provide fresher and healthier foods. And when folks come to our food bank, or when they visit us in our mobile food pantries out in the community, the food that we’re offering is free,” she said.

A FamilyWorks mobile food pantry offering fresh produce for free to community. (Photo courtesy of FamilyWorks.)

The FEF uses money from the Sweetened Beverage Tax (SBT) to award organizations in two separate categories. The General Grant has an award amount ranging from $5,000 to $100,000, while the Capacity Building Grant award amount ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. Applications for the General Grant opened on Jan. 5 and closed on March 15. Unlike the General Grant — which requires applicants to wait until mid-June for the City’s decision — applicants for the Capacity Building Grant will be notified within three weeks of their virtual interview. 

Brooke Bradford, the community development coordinator at Community Roots Housing, told the Emerald that before it received a grant in 2022, aside from the occasional canned food drives, the organization’s work surrounding food equity and justice was limited to the efforts of one employee. “One of the family support workers had been kind of just stockpiling and trying to collect from where he could,” explained Bradford. “[There were] various donations from churches that had come in. But he’s only one person, and it was not quite within the scope of his job. But it was a real need.”

According to its website, Community Roots Housing was founded in 1976 by community activists in Capitol Hill who came together over concerns with redlining and disinvestment. Today, the organization maintains over 50 apartment buildings across Seattle.

With the money from the FEF, Community Roots Housing has focused on not only extending access to food but doing so in a way that does not compromise the dignity of the person being serviced. “We really wanted to find a way to get investment for a space that makes accessing food feel intentional, dignified, and supportive — it’s designed to give those resources in the most positive way possible,” said Bradford. “The [FEF] funding really allowed us to start building that idea into a real concept. And so right now, we’re going to be the first food pantry at a Seattle Public School.”

According to Marcia Wright-Soika, the executive director of FamilyWorks, “The investment of the FEF grant has definitely allowed us to provide fresher and healthier foods. And when folks come to our food bank, or when they visit us in our mobile food pantries [pictured above] out in the community, the food that we’re offering is free.” (Photo courtesy of FamilyWorks.)

Although Kinnetta Johnson, a chef and food justice coordinator at Wa Na Wari, says she was not involved in the organization when they applied for the grant, she has been around long enough to see where the money has gone. Johnson has been cooking for years and worked in a grocery store for over two decades. She’s been working as a chef at Wa Na Wari since January. 

Wa Na Wari translates to “our home” in Kalabari, the name and language of an ethnic subgroup of the Nigerian Ijaw people. According to its website, the organization identifies and operates as an executive leadership cohort in which leadership is shared. In addition to its meal program, Wa Na Wari operates a community garden under its BLOOM Food Justice Series. Johnson says her meals are made with food from the community garden. 

Before her employment with the organization, Johnson worked in a grocery store during the pandemic. “This job is the job that got me out of the grocery store. I’ve been cooking for a long time, and just working through the pandemic, being at the grocery store and seeing people in their craziness, just buying, buying, buying everything! And then you go outside and there’s homeless people everywhere that don’t have anything. Seeing the contrast was crazy.”

While Johnson says she is grateful and fulfilled by the work she does, she also says that seeing so many people in need of food is bittersweet. “We’re seeing new people every week, which is a good thing, right? Because people know about us and are coming out to get the food, and they appreciate it. And also, it’s like, ‘Dang, there’s a lot of new people coming every week,’ which means that there’s more of a need now,” said Johnson. “We need more of these programs because we can’t reach everybody.”

The City will be accepting Capacity Building Grant applications until Oct. 31 or until funding runs out. Organizations that are not encouraged to apply are 501(c)(4) political groups, small businesses and for-profit entities, and individual persons. Major institutions such as school districts, universities, and hospitals are also not encouraged to apply. 

Find out more about the Food Equity Fund’s Capacity Building Grant guidelines and application process on the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods.

This Project is funded in part by the City of Seattle’s Environmental Justice Fund.

Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.

📸 Featured Image: FamilyWorks, a social services organization based in Seattle, operates a resource center and food bank in Wallingford and has an additional food bank in Greenwood. (Photo courtesy of FamilyWorks.)

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