Challenges, Changes and Constants at FareStart

October 5, 2021

FareStart’s mission and vision remain constant. How we do some of our work to promote personal stability and economic mobility for those we serve is changing.

COVID-19 has changed everyone’s lives. The effects of it and its variants are far reaching and will continue to pose challenges. Like most nonprofits, FareStart has been deeply affected by the pandemic and shut downs, as well as by the changing political and social landscape that is bringing needed challenges to inequity and systemic racism. The problems and opportunities are many, and we are continuing to reimagine our organization to adapt and improve how we go about fulfilling our mission.

We remain constant in pursuing our mission of nourishing communities, disrupting poverty and transforming lives, and our ultimate vision that every individual has the opportunity to thrive in an equitable and just world. 

We were fortunately positioned as an organization and a community to be able to move quickly and play a significant part in fighting rising hunger during the pandemic. Two million meals were produced and delivered locally in 2020 and we will do a similar number in 2021. Nationally, we supported our Catalyst Kitchens member network with strategy work, and regranted funds to those organizations who could pivot to feed their communities, collectively producing over 21 million meals in 2020 around the nation.

Our supporters rallied to the cause of hunger relief in a big way; the many thousands of donors, continuing and new, helped avert the worst of the hunger crisis for vulnerable populations, particularly those isolated in supportive low-income housing, low-income students and those in shelters.

Meals for the hungry are not new to FareStart – in fact, feeding our community is how FareStart began. What started as a meal business became a food-service training program. Providing healthy meals to vulnerable individuals and nourishing communities is the foundation that brings the stability required to support personal transformation and self-empowerment offered in our job training programs.

FareStart is still transforming lives, in the same fundamental ways we have from our start. We continue to enroll, graduate and facilitate job placement for students; meeting each person who enters our program where they are, with personalized, whole-person support including housing, counseling and other supports services, and a self-empowerment curriculum that truly allows them to transform themselves and their lives. Our students overcome great barriers – they correct negative beliefs about themselves and heal from many types of trauma inflicted by experiences of homelessness, incarceration, violence, abuse, neglect, discrimination, mental health challenges and substance use disorders. This holistic approach, along with training for employment according to each individual’s newfound goals, helps bring about a more permanent change and provides real pathways out of poverty that are born of their own determination and commitment to themselves.

Please look for FareStart’s new strategic plan coming later this fall. It will be grounded in our mission and vision but will incorporate our learnings from the COVID-19 crisis, from our journey in growing our organization’s commitment to and advocacy for racial justice, and from the changing social and employment environments in our region and country.

Read further for details about what is staying the same at FareStart and the new and exciting ways we are bringing hope and transformation to populations that are furthest from opportunity.

Programs Update

FareStart continues to serve low-income adults and young people with barriers to employment through our job training programs. These barriers include homelessness or unstable housing, criminal or incarceration history, negative job history, substance use disorder, skill deficiency, and mental health issues. Our programs now and historically serve a high number of individuals from BIPOC communities, which are disproportionately impacted by homelessness, poverty and food insecurity.

Training Programs 

COVID-19 halted on-the-job culinary training in its tracks. We paused all programming in March of 2020, but kept in regular contact our students and graduates in order to ensure their safety and to provide them with support and meals, and in some cases, jobs in our kitchens. Our programs team quickly pivoted to rewrite curricula and introduce virtual programming in September 2020, and our online training for youth and adults continues now. Virtual training will continue to be part of FareStart’s program delivery going forward, even as we are able to re-introduce on-the-job training when it is safe and possible when our businesses reopen.

Our adult training is currently a 7-week, all-virtual program, with students receiving a stipend during the training program. Training focuses on job preparedness skills for employability and self-empowerment, and also on creating a supportive community remotely in small cohorts. Throughout the six months that we offered virtual training in 2020, 80 individuals enrolled in FareStart employment and job training programs and we made 130 job placements for those enrollees and other graduates. Seventy-five percent of adult graduates obtained job placements within 90 days of graduation, despite the pandemic. In 2020 our employment coordinator helped make job connections for our graduates in restaurants, high volume food production (frozen and ready to-eat meals), facility and building services, retirement centers, painting and property services and others, and in 2021 we continue to enroll, graduate and help place students in jobs in these sectors and more.

Our two youth programs, after a pause of several months, continued virtually as well, enrolling 58 in 2020. Youth students and grads have continued to be placed in paid internships or jobs and some also have completed their GED or high school diplomas over the past year of virtual training.

Beginning in October, we will transition our Youth Culinary Program to the Youth & Young Adult Barista Program. This change is a result of FareStart’s student-centered approach and listening directly to young people who are seeking more opportunities in the barista and customer service fields. Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Interagency Academy, our primary partner for the Youth Culinary Program, will continue to partner with us to allow SPS students to obtain school credit while in the program. We also have expanded program partners to include the Y Social Impact Center, a youth-centered organization. The YMCA is a longtime food insecurity partner of ours, and this is a natural evolution of that partnership to support more youth and young adults in breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Longtime barista program partner YouthCare, along with other social service agencies serving young people, can continue to refer clients to the Youth & Young Adult Barista Program.

The program is currently 6-weeks of 100% virtual training, with students receiving $35/day for participation. We plan to ramp up enrollment as much as possible going forward with new partners and expanding program capacity to help more youth toward economic mobility.

Catalyst Kitchens by FareStart

The Catalyst Kitchens network and Catalyst Consulting have continued virtually without a pause since the pandemic began. We offered support to network members at a critical time and in 2020 we raised and regranted over $1 million to network member organizations who also were pivoting to feed their communities in the crisis. Collectively, the network produced over 21 million meals in 2020.

This year, Catalyst Kitchens’ important work continues virtually, helping organizations feed their communities, aiding in post-pandemic recovery and working to restart job training programs virtually and in-person around the nation.

Food Security and Rebuilding for On-the-Job Training 

With our restaurants, cafés and catering still shuttered for the time being, FareStart’s local food operations currently are focused exclusively on reducing hunger and food insecurity. FareStart was founded on nourishing people in our community, and food security became a primary activity during the last year and a half of COVID-19 when hunger grew in our community and our national community around the country.

Hunger Relief

Leaning into hunger relief and food security during the pandemic helped meet the need for healthy food in our community, kept our staff employed, allowed us to employ graduates, and ensured that food that might have been wasted went to help feed our community. We increased meals to serve permanent supportive housing residents and shelters, more youth and families in poverty, more seniors and other populations vulnerable to hunger during the shut-down.

In order to continue feeding our neighbors in need in our community, FareStart will continue to provide meals to those furthest from resources at a higher rate than we did prior to 2020. We served almost 1 million contract meals a year pre-COVID and surged to provide about 2 million meals a year for 2020 and 2021. The new partnerships formed, the prepared meals to permanent supportive housing residents, the frozen meal production for food banks and the vital role FareStart plays in ensuring Seattle’s hungry are fed will all continue to be essential for regional food security improvements going forward.

Food Security – A Collaborative Effort

Our work in hunger relief during the COVID-19 crisis made visible the many gaps and inequities in the local food system and highlighted for us new ways in which our meal expertise could be of service in our community, both during and beyond this pandemic.

Collaboration is a core value of FareStart, and key to our success in this work. We are partnering with a multitude of organizations to help assess food needs and to feed our community, working in regular communication with King County, City of Seattle, United Way, YMCA, Seattle Housing Authority, Seattle Human Services Department, Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest, and with support and expertise from corporate partners, non-profits, the foodservice community, and the communities we are serving to ensure an efficient and collaborative approach for hunger relief.

Using all we have learned from those partners as well as knowledge we’ve gathered from the communities in need who we have been talking with and feeding, this year we have increased capacity to pilot new food distribution and procurement models, pursue more innovative food recovery to minimize food waste and keep costs down, and help increase the economic viability of local businesses, with emphasis on partnerships with BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) communities and farmers.

On-the-Job Training in FareStart’s Businesses

We anticipate that the FareStart Restaurant, our cafés and some limited catering will reopen in 2022. Though our timeline has slowed due to the delta variant, we are working hard to reimagine our social enterprises so we can reopen when it is safe and financially viable to do so, including enough patronage to support sustainably those operations and enough on-the-job training for students.

Our Innovation team also is working on new initiatives, new partnerships and possible new social enterprises. We are excited about our pilot of a community-based, mobile market, designed to find new ways to provide equitable access to fresh, healthy food to communities who are underserved, including those who have been impacted by systemic racism in food systems.

Our ultimate goal is that on-the-job training will be re-integrated into all our social enterprises, old and new, including the restaurant, cafés and hunger relief meals.

With every crisis comes a wealth of opportunity to learn and grow. And learn and grow we have! Although COVID-19 still hampers FareStart’s full recovery in some aspects, our resilience and determination to aid our students, feed our community and work toward our vision of an equal and just world is unchanged, and with our supporters’ help, we know that we can make great strides.