Three days before Ramadan started this year, Adasha Turner got sick with the coronavirus.
Turner can’t walk and is in a wheelchair from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, so shopping and cooking take an enormous amount of energy, even without the complications COVID-19 presents. And the mosques where she’d normally break fasts with communal meals during Ramadan weren’t offering food due to the pandemic. It was looking like a hard month.
But then she got connected to the Seattle nonprofit organization Lifelong. Through its partnership with Wasat, a Seattle Muslim organization, and local chefs of color, Lifelong started bringing Turner meals like chicken kebabs or grocery bags with lentils and meat every day. The food wasn’t only halal. It was also mostly free from the inflammatory foods that make Turner’s condition worse. She says it felt like she’d ordered it “à la carte.”
Providing food that fulfills both cultural and medical needs is one of Lifelong’s main focuses. In 2020, its food and nutrition program, Chicken Soup Brigade, delivered 45,000 grocery bags and 336,000 frozen meals to low-income Washington residents with life-challenging illnesses who struggle to access nutritious foods (mostly in King, Island and Snohomish counties). These meals Lifelong provides are medically tailored, which means they are approved by a registered dietitian nutritionist for people with specific health conditions, and there are different meal plans for clients with varying dietary needs. Lifelong says it’s the only organization in Washington that provides these types of meals. And now, it’s focusing on making its food more culturally relevant to its clients. On Sept. 30, a long list of participating Seattle restaurants including places such as Bateau, Terra Plata and Poquitos, are donating a portion of their proceeds to Lifelong for the organization’s Dining Out For Life fundraiser.
Lifelong, which started as a group of organizations fighting the HIV epidemic in the 1980s, now offers housing services, case management and food, among other things, to people who CEO Claire Neal describes as facing the “dual burden of illness and injustice.”
On a recent Wednesday, Lifelong’s chefs served a six-course meal to a couple of dozen people sitting under a pavilion in front of the organization’s kitchen and packing house on the southern edge of the Industrial District. The dishes included a Vietnamese beef stew fragrant with lemon grass, Veracruz-style salmon and roast yam and mushroom congee. After each course, the diners took a couple of minutes filling out a feedback form on their phones.
The diners represented organizations that refer clients to Lifelong, such as the Latino LGBT organization Entre Hermanos and Catholic Community Service’s African American Elders Program. The goal of the event was to get feedback on a revamped menu for Chicken Soup Brigade’s meals that is tailored to the demographics of Lifelong’s clients, many of whom are Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander or East African.
On display too were examples of the contents of what might be in Lifelong’s updated culturally specific grocery bags, which change each week depending on available ingredients. The bag for Asian and Pacific Islander clients contained soy milk and rice noodles. The one for Latinos had masa harina and dry black beans. And the East African grocery bag was filled with bags of okra, dates and teff flour.
Caila Nickerson, the director of Chicken Soup Brigade, says the organization has served culturally diverse food for a while, but is now making sure its clients receive dishes from the cultures they come from.
She says when the organization started out, the focus was just to get nutritious food to people, but as the organization has grown, it’s been able to make sure the food is culturally relevant, too.
But even the idea of medically tailored meals, regardless of cultural relevance, is a break from old ways of thinking about feeding hungry people, says Neal, the CEO. She says until recently, most organizations have focused on calories over everything else, even though for people with chronic health conditions, like diabetes, the type of food they eat is just as important. Lifelong is part of the Food is Medicine Coalition, a national group of organizations Neal says is changing this paradigm.
Mary McCoy, a longtime Lifelong client, says these medically tailored meals have been essential to recovering from illness.
Ten years ago, McCoy was recovering from strokes and suffering from arthritis. She says she was in so much pain that she’d sit around all day without the energy to cook or go to the grocery store. McCoy became depressed and started losing unhealthy amounts of weight.
After a neighbor referred her to Lifelong’s meal program, she says she slowly started enjoying eating again, with the help of a Lifelong nutritionist who’d call to check in on her. After a year, she started getting grocery bags and found the energy to cook.
Neal says Lifelong mainly serves King, Island and Snohomish counties now, with the exception of some medically tailored meals it ships to other parts of Washington. In the future, she hopes to bring the meals to more parts of rural Washington, many of which are food deserts.
Now in her late 70s, McCoy says she’s healthier than she was a decade ago and has grown her own garden for the first time, with tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli and collard greens.
“I’ve come a mighty, mighty long way,” McCoy says. “I look forward to the meals now. I’m learning how to eat differently.”
Restaurants donating a percentage of proceeds to Lifelong on Sept. 30
Note: Several other restaurants are donating a flat $100 to Lifelong, and a full list of participating restaurants can be found here.
- Aluel Cellars: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Bateau: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Boat Bar: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Brimmer & Heeltap: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Capitol Cider: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Ciudad: Donating 10% of proceeds
- Coastal Kitchen: Donating 30% of proceeds
- DeLuxe Bar and Grill: Donating 10% of proceeds
- El Camino Restaurant & Bar: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Gold Bar: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Jimmy’s on Broadway: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Korochka Tavern: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Mezzanotte: Donating 10% of proceeds
- morfire: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Moshi Moshi Sushi & Izakaya: Donating 50% of proceeds
- Off Alley: Donating 30% of proceeds
- The Olive and Grape: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Plenty of Clouds: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Poquitos: Donating 30% of proceeds
- South Town Pie: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Sunny Up: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Terra Plata: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Tutta Bella Columbia City: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Union: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Vino at The Landing: Donating 30% of proceeds
- Watershed Pub: Donating 30% of proceeds
- The Woods (Seattle Cider Company and Two Beers Brewing Brewing Company’s tasting room): Donating 30% of proceeds.