ICHS Expands Meal Deliveries to Vulnerable Seniors
Midday traffic passes up and down South Jackson Street in the Chinatown International District while Kevin parks his white shuttle bus in front of the historic Bush Hotel. He steps out carrying two large blue thermal carriers of packaged lunch boxes, still warm from being cooked at International Community Health Services (ICHS) Legacy House only minutes before, and knocks on the door to the lobby.
Two staff, Chun and Michelle, from the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) greet him at the lobby and together they unload the meals onto carts and then quickly Kevin is on his way again, off to the next senior housing building in the Chinatown-International District (CID).
The whole delivery takes only minutes. At this point, it is well-practiced as ICHS marks over two years of partnering with SCIDpda, InterIm Community Development Association (InterIm CDA), and other community partners to deliver nutritious, Asian-style meals to senior residents living across the CID.
Only two months after Governor Jay Inslee declared a statewide emergency on February 29, 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19, ICHS drivers were already making over 800 meal delivery stops in the C-ID, every single week. It wasn’t just one or two buildings says David Carroll, ICHS Transportation Administrator, “We were delivering at all of the big high rises here in the CID.”
Throughout 2020, ICHS would deliver nearly 41,000 meals. All of the meals were cooked and prepared at the ICHS Legacy House Assisted Living facility kitchen, in addition to normal cooking operations of three meals a day for the 70 or so residents.
The program was buttressed by Washington State funding, and the large-scale meal delivery program was ending in 2021. At the start of 2022, ICHS drivers were only delivering about 200 meals a week.
Then in spring 2022, COVID-19 Relief grant funding from the Group Health Foundation resuscitated the meal delivery program and free meal deliveries have expanded once more to over 1,000 meals a week through the end of the 2022.
“This has been a lifeline for us and the elderly residents of the C-ID,” says Heidi Wong, ICHS Foundation Executive Director. “Food makes a difference in the health and lives of our community and without the Group Health Foundation we would have had to close the program.”
A lifeline for the community
The Bush Hotel was built in 1915 as an ornate single room occupancy hotel serving passengers coming and going from the nearby King St Train Station. Today, it is a well-known Chinatown International District landmark. The hotel was converted into affordable housing by SCIDpda in 1978, and is now home to many low-income senior residents.
Despite the “Model Minority” myth, data from the City of Seattle show that the Chinatown-International District residents had population below the poverty line twice the level (29.7%) then citywide (14%). And also much higher renter households (81.6%) then citywide (53%).
The Asian American senior residents of the C-ID have experienced an outbreak of racism that sowed fear in their neighborhood, well before COVID-19 cases were confirmed. Anti-Asian hate crimes and fears of contracting COVID-19 forced residents to stay indoors, even before the COVID-19 pandemic civil emergency orders. Seniors are the least likely to understand how to navigate online resources.
ICHS’ Adult Day Services include congregate senior meals and activities in the basement of the Bush Hotel, as well as Adult Day Service programming at the Legacy House Assisted Living Facility. When pandemic civil emergency orders were announced, ICHS closed in-person senior programs to keep participants safe. Namely, the participants of ICHS’ Adult Day Services like congregate senior meals and activities in the basement of the Bush Hotel, as well as Adult Day Service programming at the Legacy House Assisted Living Facility. ICHS had to furlough staff, including ICHS’ four drivers.
“We're no longer passenger transport now because we can't transport people.” says Carroll. “These folks need us and they trust us and rely on us to provide services and to help them navigate and get through all of these hard times."
“For a lot of the people we deliver to, this is the only meal that they have for that day.” says Carroll. “Food security is a big deal, and if you don't know where your next meal is going to come from, that's quite the load especially when you’re elderly.”