For this event, dozens of restaurants around Seattle will be offering a portion of their proceeds from that day's sales to Lifelong, which recently has seen a massive increase in its need for helping to feed the community. In fact, during the first two weeks of the pandemic, Lifelong saw a 486% rise in food-related requests, requests for rent assistance were up 137% and across all social service needs, daily requests more than doubled compared to pre-COVID rates in 2020.
CEO Claire Neal said Lifelong was formed in response to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
"Our community was not willing to sit back and just watch as friends, partners and neighbors were left to die of AIDS, and so they fought back and mobilized against injustice," she said.
As HIV transformed from a fatal infection to a chronic condition, Lifelong adapted and evolved as well, shifting its work and program focus to meeting community needs and supporting people who live with a variety of life-challenging illnesses.
"Now each day, we work to eliminate stigma, create authentic relationships and care for the whole person," Neal said. "Our unique model helps a person identify what barriers are standing in the way of their best health, creates a unified support system, connects them to vital resources and basic necessities and empowers people to take control of their own health."
According to Neal, the pandemic has laid bare the many health inequities that are rife in our systems.
"Due to systemic inequities, communities of color have been disproportionately negatively affected," she said. "For many people, the pandemic has also shown just how easily a roof over our head, healthy food or access to healthcare can slip away. Many families have seen their circumstances change dramatically with the pandemic and now need support and care in ways they haven't before."
In the past year-plus, Lifelong has also seen a dramatic increase in people seeking services like medically-tailored meals, rental assistance and case management, and many now need deeper levels of service such as home-delivered care, employment help and COVID-19 assistance, too.
Through its food and nutrition program, Chicken Soup Brigade, the nonprofit distributes tailored meals and grocery boxes.
"We believe that food is medicine and that it is important for people to have access to food that is not only nourishing, but that feels like home and fits their cultural background," Neal said. "With this growing need, we are expanding our services to provide additional culturally relevant meals and grocery boxes to many different groups including Latinx, East African, Vietnamese and other communities."
Every year, Dining Out For Life invites restaurants to get directly involved with philanthropy in their communities. And for Lifelong, the Seattle nonprofit recipient, it proves one of the biggest annual fundraising events. This year's initiative is more important than ever, Neal said.
"During this time of COVID, the need for nutritious food, safe housing and compassionate support has outweighed our resources. We need the community's support to fill the funding gap. We understand that this year has been such a stretch for restaurants and are honored that so many have turned out to contribute to Lifelong's lifesaving work to help our community."
Off Alley, a 12-seat restaurant located in the heart of Columbia City's historic district, will be one of the participating venues. In describing the restaurant that opened Aug. 1, 2020, Chef Evan Leichtling said, "We work with local farmers, highlighting seasonal produce and offal meats. We have a chalkboard-style menu, featuring shared plates and it changes a little every day."
Leichtling has been long familiar with Dining Out For Life, having cooked at various participating Capitol Hill restaurants over the years. So why did it feel important to get his own venue involved?
"We have been fortunate enough to receive tremendous community support since we opened our doors, and we really admire what Lifelong has been committed to," he said. "We've learned over the last year or so, a little goes a long way, and we are glad to have the opportunity to help in our small way."
"Now, more than ever," he added, "equitable access to healthcare is paramount."
"There are many ways to get involved with Lifelong," Neal said. "By supporting Lifelong's mission you can help us address health disparities and respond to the dramatic increase in need we've seen since the start of the pandemic. You can participate in Dining Out For Life or become a supporter by joining our Bread and Butter Club or volunteer your time. However you choose to get involved, we look forward to having you as part of our Lifelong family!"