Thirty years ago, Seattle chef David Lee started a business that partnered with local homeless shelters to bring healthy meals to folks living in them. Five years later, Lee transitioned that for-profit entity into a nonprofit enterprise and FareStart, an organization that trains homeless, jobless, formerly incarcerated, and people in recovery for careers in the food service industry, was born. This year the program, which anticipates serving over a million meals in 2017 alone, an all-time high, is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new cookbook and a large donation from Amazon.
In July, FareStart was gifted 25,000-square-feet of space in the Amazon South Lake Union campus along with a large financial donation from Seattle’s resident retail monolith—ironically, a company known locally for pricing out residents. “Amazon, along with other companies that have moved to the Seattle area, have caused a lot of growth,” says Stephanie Schoo, FareStart’s marketing and communications director. “With that comes challenges, obviously. It also brings opportunity.”
Amazon’s donation was a major game-changer for FareStart. It will enable the organization to double in size and reach over the next ten years. FareStart, which already had a restaurant downtown, has been able to open a new restaurant, Maslow's by FareStart, a cafe, and three more fast casual eateries in South Lake Union, all of which offer training and apprenticeship programs to FareStart students—90 percent of whom get a job within three months days of graduation.
“The whole reason for us is to help folks get out of poverty,” says Schoo. “When we launched our new restaurants and our new programs, we wanted to be able to offer additional training and skills for people to get into higher wage positions in the industry.”
And there’s a new 25th anniversary FareStart cookbook for sale, which offers recipes as well as accounts from former FareStart staff and volunteers. As always, the proceeds go back to FareStart training programs—which, to date, have helped nearly 9,000 students and served nearly 10 million meals to local schools, shelters, and healthcare facilities.
“Food nourishes the soul,” says Schoo, “and the restaurant industry, which is very forgiving, allows people get to their lives back on track.”