This Urban Food Collective Is Fresh!

By United Way of King County, on November 28, 2022 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, News

Linda Hansen of Seattle was always taught that we must take care of ourselves before assisting others.  It’s a mantra that’s been attributed to everyone from Maya Angelou to Dr. Phil to flight attendants explaining what to do during a loss of cabin pressure.  But, after working as a teacher across four Western Washington school districts, and pausing your career to raise five children, you knew the mantra was easier to say than practice.

But Hansen has now found an ally in the Urban Fresh Food Collective, a grassroots organization in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood that provides free, fresh and healthy food by mobilizing its neighborhood’s resources—including farms, businesses and community members.

The Collective comprises of South Park, Young Women Empowered, Resistencia Coffee, Wasat, and Seattle Parks & Recreation. At least once a week, the Collective provides culturally specific foods—including meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables—to anyone who walks up to their location. Hansen happened to be walking past the venue one day when she noticed a sign that read, “Free Food.”

“I said to myself, ‘I can always use that,’” Hansen said. “I walked up and said, ‘What do I need to do?’ and they took my name and said, ‘You’re welcome to come back [every week].’ Once a week I come down, and it has just gotten better and better all the time. My family really appreciates it. I don’t think I’ve missed a week.”

Cultivate South Park is among 35 organizations that comprise the King County Food Security Assistance Program, which distributes culturally specific food to economically disadvantaged communities. United Way of King County partnered with Public Health—Seattle & King County to support the distribution of $4.5 million to community-based organizations, meal programs, food banks and coalitions. The Collective works with Cultivate South Park to help make those distributions possible.

On a recent cold, overcast and rainy day, Hansen stood outside Cultivate South Park’s location, which is nestled among several industrial buildings and road construction sites. It’s so off the beaten path that you’ve got to be going there to get there, but the long queue of visitors that grows by the hour indicates that folks don’t have trouble finding it.

“It’s a godsend,” said Hansen, who relishes the warm smiles from the Urban Fresh Food Collective staff that load up bags and boxes with produce and proteins. It’s a generosity and care that is not unlike that which she used to share each day as a schoolteacher in the Highline, Seattle, Federal Way and Bellingham districts. Now retired, she still misses watching kids’ eyes light up when they’re learning something new.

“I miss being able to greet them in the morning, just their happiness,” Hansen said. “I taught in a lot of places, and kids are kids wherever you go. Some of them came from homes that you never knew about—they would have tears in their eyes when they got off the bus. You can’t give them hugs anymore, but you used to hug them and start their days off good.”

Now retired, Hansen says starting her day off well means taking care of herself and a husband who suffers from diabetes and was recently diagnosed with kidney failure. That means staying away from processed foods and opting for healthy, nutritious options, which makes the Urban Fresh Food Collective all the more vital.

Inside the Urban Fresh Food Collective

“The eggs, chicken and vegetables are great. All of our meals are from right here,” said Hansen, who makes homemade soup twice a week from the foods she gathers from the Collective. “I put in all the carrots and potatoes. It’s kind of fun that there will be different things all the time, so whatever is in my refrigerator is in the soup pot. And it’s amazing how good that soup can turn out, and it doesn’t have to be a recipe. It’s just what you have.

“My need is, especially, to keep my husband healthy,” said Hansen, “but I was always [told] to take care of yourself first before you can take care of someone else. So, I’m eating healthy, too.”

All this is from a program that began to increase access to healthy food in an area that’s regarded as a food desert. In addition to providing food at the South Park location, the Collective also uses United Way’s Home Grocery Delivery program in partnership with DoorDash to deliver groceries from door to door.

Hansen, still ever eager to assist others, says that she is now able to help family members financially because her grocery bill is down after visiting the Urban Fresh Food Collective. She encourages others to frequent the Collective as well, adding, “Seriously, you would be eating much better. You would be spending some of the money that you put in the grocery store for other things you really need.”


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