Northwest Harvest Development Director Laura Hamilton is bracing for unprecedented demand for food from her nonprofit relief agency as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy.
With some forecasts showing up to 40% of jobs in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties being disrupted in coming weeks, “We’re going to be seeing people who’ve never used a food bank before,” Hamilton said. “Who’ve always been able to make it even if it’s been paycheck to paycheck, and now that safety net is gone.’’
Grappling with those logistics for the nonprofit’s statewide network of 375 food banks and meal programs will take big money. That’s why a group of community-minded business leaders have banded together to pledge funding to Northwest Harvest and other local nonprofits and charities, raising $27 million from more than 200 individuals and entities in an All In Seattle initiative launched Monday.
“The idea is no middleman — as fast as humanly possible get this to the people who are helping people,’’ said Rajeev Singh, CEO of the Accolade health care company, who spearheaded the initiative along with his angel investor wife, Jill, his brother, Steve, and a circle of friends.
The desire for speed means the Singhs and others aren’t collecting money as a group to disburse later. Instead, they’ve pledged their own funds directly to recipient organizations and set up an allinseattle.org website with links to those groups so others can donate the same way.
Among those that helped launch the group are Singh’s brother, a managing director at Madrona Venture Group, and his wife, Heather, chief marketing officer for startup Center ID. Also, another Madrona managing director, Matt McIlwain, and his wife, Carol, along with Flying Fish Partners venture firm co-founder Heather Redman and her husband, Ric, an environmental attorney with Cascadia Law Group.
Others include Seattle Foundation philanthropist Soozi McGill and her husband, T.J., co-founder of Evergreen Pacific Partners, and Amperity CEO Kabir Shahani and his wife, Noreen.
They all began working with local government, business and community organizations like Challenge Seattle to identify organizations and funds, such as rent relief programs, that directly address citizens’ needs.
“It started with a few of us, we reached out to a few friends and they reached out to a few friends,’’ Jill Singh said. “And it really grew in this beautiful way to this giant number that we never anticipated.’’
The group had hoped to reach $5 million, but quickly revised that to $10 million and beyond. “So, we’re all completely blown away,’’ she said.
Rajeev and Jill Singh have already sent about 20% of what they’ve pledged to personally donate and plan to start issuing the remaining 80% of checks by Tuesday. They’ll also keep in touch with others in the group to ensure they follow through on what they’ve pledged.
Others adding early pledges include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Gates Ventures, the Paul Allen Foundation, real estate magnate David Sabey, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, rapper Macklemore and his wife, Tricia Davis, the Wright family, and Erik and Julie Nordstrom.
The list of causes supported by the group includes the University of Washington’s Medical Emergency Response Fund, the COVID-19 Arts Emergency Relief Fund, the Small Business Stabilization Fund, the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Fund, Housing Connector and the United Way of King County. But Rajeev Singh said the list is by no means complete, and donors should feel free to reach out through a link on the All In Seattle website with additional recipient suggestions.
“All of us, you, me, Jill, we’re all dealing with the impacts of this pandemic on our lives, our businesses, our friends and our families,’’ he said. “Candidly, when we thought early on that $5 million was a reasonable number to raise, we were factoring in the idea that people had so much on their plates right now.
“But what was so spectacular about this effort and reflected in the soul of the Pacific Northwest is people set aside the challenges they were facing in their own lives and acknowledged they had to do something for their community as well.’’
For Angela Dunleavy-Stowell, CEO of FareStart, a nonprofit that delivers meals to homeless shelters and others in need and trains clients to prepare the food — giving them needed job skills — the money raised by All In Seattle comes at a desperately needed time. Dunleavy-Stowell said FareStart prepared 32,000 meals the past two weeks and hopes to ramp up to accommodate 50,000 daily if needed — largely for “seniors and vulnerable populations’’ during the current crisis.
“I’d hate to think it will get to that point,’’ she said. “But we have to prepare for that possibility.’’
That number could include thousands of children relying on free or reduced-cost lunches at school that now are at home. Or families of those who lose their jobs as companies downsize or close due to the economic downturn.
The looming specter of mass job loss has kept Northwest Harvest’s Hamilton on her toes all month, mapping out logistics for what’s ahead.
Northwest Harvest had to modify its Sodo Community Market midmonth from a grocery model to a pickup service. Volunteers and staff now distribute prepackaged food to those willing to line up outside for it and retrieve it at a safe distance.
The group for the first time has also started mobile food delivery to eight Metro-area locations and hopes to soon expand to 14.
“As people have been buying more food off the shelves, there’s also less for companies to be able to donate to us,’’ she said. “So, sourcing the food is becoming more expensive as time goes on.’’
Which is where added money from the All In Seattle donations will be much welcomed.
“There’s a ripple effect to all of this,’’ she said of the crisis. “And we’re really doing our best to anticipate what we’ll need.’’