FEEST 2020–2021 Annual Report

Letter from Executive Director Jaimée Marsh

Dear FEEST Family, 

Over the past 18 months, we have been reflecting on what it means to be in our power. We have seen the power of young people to organize and create real change. Amidst a national wave of resistance, youth in South Seattle and South King County sharply identified policing as a threat to their health and wellbeing. The campaign to remove police from Seattle Public Schools was led by young people, including youth from FEEST, who organized their community to push the school board into action. We continue to be inspired by the brilliance and resilience of young people during what has undoubtedly been a challenging time. 

I started my role at FEEST only six months before the pandemic. While much has changed about our daily reality since then, the pandemic tested and proved what I knew to be true — the FEEST team is committed to community care and actively working toward creating more sustainable pathways for fresh, culturally relevant food while centering racial justice. I continue to be inspired by the ways in which our team and community shows up in support of our mission, which in turn fuels my own resilience during this challenging time. 

In facing the challenges of COVID-19, we have continued to listen to and elevate the needs of young people: their mental health, safety in schools, and secure access to food in increasingly insecure conditions. All throughout, we’ve maintained our commitment to radical joy. FEEST has been a space for young people to share community, lift their voices, and feel power in themselves to make the changes they want to see in their communities.

This work has spurred an incredible period of growth and change for FEEST as we deepen our commitment and examine what it truly means to be youth-led. Looking forward to the next few years, we are centering young people in our vision of the future we want to create. As we develop our organizing strategy for the next five years, we’re asking ourselves: How can we be most responsive to young people’s needs? How can we build more power to win our campaigns for systemic change? 

We are listening, visioning, and organizing for better conditions for the youth of today and tomorrow — and for our entire community. Youth are in the lead at FEEST because we know that the people most impacted by injustice must be the ones to seize power and build better solutions. This movement for justice in schools has been fueled by community members like you who believe in the power of young people. We are endlessly thankful for your support.

In solidarity and gratitude,

Jaimée Marsh

Executive Director

Photo of Heena looking at the camera

Letter from FEEST Youth Leader Heena

I first joined FEEST when I was in the 5th grade. When my parents were at work, I would join my sister, who was a FEEST youth leader at the time, fighting for food justice. I didn’t understand the purpose of the organization when I was younger, but I loved cooking and eating foods from different cultures. During my sophomore year, I became a youth leader with the one and only FEEST. Here, I talked with the Nutrition Services Director at Seattle Public Schools, hosted events on school food, and participated in meetings where I learned about the issues my community faces when accessing organic affordable foods. When learning about the barriers my community faces with accessing healthy foods, I learned how systems such as immigration, classism, transportation, racism, etc. impact my community’s ability to meet their health and food access needs. At FEEST, I have learned that the most effective way for communities to seize justice is by going to the root of the problem to demand change that addresses the systems in place that limit our access to foods that we deserve and will make us thrive.

My experience being a youth leader here at FEEST has been an eye opening experience. Like taking a young child to Disneyland, FEEST opened my eyes to a whole new world. In my time here, I have made a ton of friends and connections. An important memory that I will always hold onto was during the second week at FEEST, when all the youth leaders were creating campaigns and believing that they were “asking for too much.” In this moment I learned that we are not asking for too much. When it comes to resources for Black and Brown communities, we are fighting for what wealthy, white communities just receive as a bare minimum. These are resources that should be given to us, but instead it is something we must fight for. And fighting for these resources is what we do.

Before FEEST, food justice was something no one ever seemed to talk about around me. Food justice is when communities have access to foods that are good for your organs, mental and physical health, and body. I care deeply about food justice because the foods in my community are processed, not fresh, and don’t help my people feel well satisfied. As I look at the other communities around me, there are foods that are way different than what I see near my home. I live in White Center, which is filled with working Black and Brown folks. In our under-resourced neighborhood, the quality of the food available is either of good quality, but expensive, or poor quality and cheap/unhealthy. I see multiple fast food outlets like McDonalds, Popeyes, and KFC on almost every street. I see my peers feeling drowsy in class and/or sick because of the food we eat at school. I see myself and my family not having enough options for healthier foods. I see my parents having multiple health issues from not having access to the healthy foods that they need. By being involved with FEEST, my peers and I are addressing the problem of food inequality by demanding changes and voicing our experiences to people in power. 

Here at FEEST, young people lead to make change. FEEST has helped me become a leader through many activities such as the raining rocks activity, a roleplay where villagers have to decide how to fight back against the people who are harming them. This is an activity FEEST uses to highlight the different perspectives and groups of people involved in organizing. This helped us see what different perspectives are and how we could use them to help us grow. This activity sticks to my mind, because it helps me situate the different power dynamics. Who are the villagers? The villagers are often people who are being the most affected by systematic oppression. Who are the people throwing rocks? The people throwing rocks are often the folks who have the power to oppress the villagers. From this activity, I learned how to identify who am I going up against, who am I in this situation, and how can I gain power in this situation? This isn’t just an activity; this is a real life scenario and the people in power might have resources, but we have the people power to fight back. 

Making my dreams of bettering the world — that is what I would like to come true. I want to see that my ideas as a young person get carried through into adulthood and knowing that my efforts weren’t just a one-time thing, but a life dedication. One of my long term goals is to see mental health being a priority in my community, in my work spaces, and in schools. If people need support throughout the day, they can take mental health days and be cared for without any consequences. My people having access to all the resources that they need to thrive, is what me and my peers fight to see. I fight for food justice because I want everyone to have equal access to foods they deserve no matter, race, class, immigrantion status, etc.

Healthy Food Improves Academic Performance

We know that having access to fresh, culturally relevant, and free food at school is essential to young people’s wellbeing. In January 2019, we released the results of two pilot projects that provided free and nutritious snacks to students in school. While the projects were slightly different in design, the results were clear: providing free healthy snacks improved students’ ability to learn. 

The projects were conducted at Evergreen and Chief Sealth High Schools during the fall of 2018. FEEST youth leaders designed the project at Chief Sealth, while the Evergreen project was designed by an intergenerational group of youth, parents, and community members led by FEEST. 

Snacks were offered at the beginning of 6th period, the point in the day when students feel most hungry after lunch. After a successful test run at Chief Sealth High School, Seattle Public Schools agreed before the COVID-19 pandemic to expand the program to Rainier Beach High School and eventually the rest of the Seattle Public Schools. The success of this program at Chief Sealth proved that youth can and should design effective solutions for the problems that directly affect them. The success of this program at Evergreen High school showed that when students have access to a variety of fresh, free foods, not only does their ability to learn improve, but students are better able to focus, retain information, collaborate with their peers, and stay in school after lunchtime. 

“I feel a lot more positive and can actually focus on the work. It gives me energy to actually ask questions and stay after school to try and understand the work I don’t understand.” —Perseus, Student

“Snack boost helps you be more productive rather than being hungry or drowsy [which] distracts you in class.” —Sean, Student

“I am able to have the energy to show up to the last class and I am able to talk with my peers and work with them.” —Angelica, Student

“No class time is spent on students with their heads down because they are hungry, or students using the hall pass to try to find food during class. The snacks have completely removed the fundamental barrier of hunger that prevents student learning.” —Jeanette Eisenberg, 6th Period Teacher

“Please fund this. Students are enjoying the trial run of the program and their behavior has improved significantly in class. There is better group collaboration and peer-to-peer work.” —Gabriel Jimenez, 6th Period Teacher

Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis

When schools closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students who relied on school meals could no longer get them. And as unemployment rose, families who were already food insecure experienced additional hardship. We heard the needs of our community and responded swiftly, shifting from our regular programming to create something new. Families with students at Chief Sealth, Evergreen, Rainier Beach, and Tyee High Schools were able to request free groceries delivered to their home by FEEST.

We worked with nearly 200 volunteers from March through June to make those deliveries possible. After taking a break to get feedback from families, we adapted the program to mail out grocery gift cards to families instead of shopping and delivering the groceries ourselves. As of July 2021, over 1,000 families have been served with food assistance, and we will continue going through the waitlist until all families who applied are served.

The program received an outpouring of support from our community. Hundreds of new people contributed in the form of volunteer service and donations, and our social media following grew dramatically. We have continued to engage the new members of the FEEST family through political education and regular updates on our programs.

“My family and myself are so grateful for the groceries. I don’t know what we would do. I have not worked since March 17 just like many others. We are proud to be a part of the Rainier Beach community.” — Parent

“My sister and I were able to make food for ourselves while my parents were at work.” — Student

“We wanted to do something for Burien and South King County in particular to help kids. Making a difference in the community where I live was a big deal. I went with my wife, and we each got a cart and took a family’s shopping list. We took a lot of pride in making sure we found everything on the list every time.” — Volunteer

FEEST Youth Leaders Continue to Thrive

Youth at FEEST are developing the political analysis and skills to become strong organizers for systemic change. Over the course of the school year, they’ve taken a deep dive into topics of food justice, health, organizing strategy, racism, and social justice. Here are just a few of the workshops we covered:

We have seen our youth leaders grow in their confidence, skills, and power. They have flexed their public speaking skills to share their knowledge with youth and adults across the city, county, and state.

When the pandemic began, we developed a new curriculum to prioritize students’ wellbeing and support analysis of current events. We also provided technology assistance with computers and wifi hotspots to help young people stay connected in the program. Our curriculum also helped students develop the language and analysis to identify important issues in their community like racism, food apartheid, gentrification, adultism, and community health. By identifying and understanding the problems, youth were able to envision solutions and gain a sense of ownership in the work.

“I love how connected I was able to feel with the FEEST fellowship despite the fact that it was virtual this year. Our work was exciting and I loved how people participated and shared their own personal perspectives.”

“I joined FEEST as a 15 year old, now I’m 18! I’ve changed in so many ways, especially politically. I’m definitely more radical.”

“I’ve definitely become more outspoken and confident in youth organizing. I became more independent and got used to taking initiative more often.”

“Thank you so much for allowing me to take part in FEEST. It has been an experience of a lifetime.”

Youth in Action

Ariel and Bree led a powerful webinar about their experiences with food justice organizing. “Anyone can be a part of this fight.”

Youth Story: Heena

FEEST youth leader Heena explained why food justice matters to her. “I don’t want other people to have to go through what my parents did.”

School Food During the Pandemic

The pandemic presented a challenge for school districts to continue serving food to students while schools were closed. Both Highline and Seattle Public Schools developed programs that allowed students and families to pick up boxes of perishable and nonperishable food. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) subsidized all school meals during the pandemic, eliminating cost as a barrier to access.

Even in the pandemic, with everything online, youth at FEEST have continued working toward systemic change in their schools. Students have told us what they want to see: healthier, more culturally relevant, more accessible food for themselves and their families. 

We surveyed students about the barriers they faced accessing school food during the pandemic and presented our findings to officials at Seattle Public Schools. The major barriers for access were a lack of transportation and lack of time to pick up food during the school day. Many students commented that having groceries delivered to their homes would be much more accessible.

Removing Police from Seattle Public Schools

The lack of fresh, healthy, and culturally relevant food at school can ultimately push students into the school-to-prison pipeline. Eating unhealthy school food can make students feel groggy, making it harder for them to focus in class and more likely for them to get in trouble with teachers and school-based police officers. 

Many other students choose to go off campus to find better food options. This has several consequences. Students are often profiled in the grocery stores and face harassment. Some may end up stealing food if they don’t have enough money to buy what they need. When students get caught stealing, they can face discipline from both the police and the school.

In the summer of 2020, FEEST joined a wave of youth-led campaigns across the country to remove police officers from schools. In Seattle, FEEST partnered with Black Minds Matter and WA-BLOC in a campaign to have police officers removed from Seattle Public Schools. We created a petition that gathered about 20,000 signatures from parents, students, and community members. We presented the petition to the Seattle School Board and worked with School Board Member Brandon Hersey to write a referendum that the board could vote on. The school board voted unanimously to end their partnership with the Seattle Police Department. This campaign proved that when youth are in the lead, they can be powerful organizers for change.

Youth Story: Adar

FEEST youth leader Adar spoke on why young people should get involved in social justice and how policing impacts students at school.

Looking Ahead: What’s Next for FEEST

After the success of the campaign to remove police from Seattle schools, we have a new understanding of what it takes to win concrete changes in our communities. Many people have joined FEEST’s movement for health equity in our schools by taking action through our online campaign. When we can mobilize a large base to put pressure on decision makers, we have the power to win.

In order to continue winning campaigns for systemic change in schools, we are looking to a new organizing model. To that end, we have embarked on a months-long strategy planning process to refresh our vision, strategies, and tactics. Our goal is to be responsive to young people’s needs and to continue building power to win campaigns. Youth are at the center of our visioning process for what kind of future we want to create and how we want to get there.

We know that there is strength in numbers and are committed to continually bringing new students into the fold. In 2021, FEEST is happy to announce that we are inviting students at Franklin High School to join our family. Franklin students will be joining their peers at Chief Sealth, Evergreen, Rainier Beach, and Tyee to organize for real youth-led change in our school systems.

Youth at FEEST are growing in their power, confidence, and leadership as they develop the skills needed to become life-long organizers. As we look ahead, we are deepening our commitment to young people’s needs and visions for change. We are building power to create real change in our communities and will continue to find ways to infuse radical joy into our work toward liberation.

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Every gift to FEEST supports young people to create systemic change in their school systems. 

Take Action

Follow our Action Center page to learn how you can get involved in our campaigns.

Thank You to our Funders

FEEST would like to thank our generous funders for making this work possible.

Best Starts for Kids: Healthy & Safe Environments
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Central Co-op
Charlotte Martin Foundation
City of Seattle’s Environmental Justice Fund, The Bullitt Foundation
City of Seattle: Food Access, Human Services
Clif Bar Family Foundation
COO: COVID-19 Impact Technology Grant
COO: Racial Equity, Systems and Policy Change
COO: White Center

Front & Centered (Frontline Response Fund)
Group Health Foundation
GQG (American Endowment Foundation)
Hazen Foundation
Jimenez Family Fund
King Conservation District
Muckleshoot Charitable Fund
Satterberg Foundation
Poolinger Family Fund
Pride Foundation

Russell Grinnell Memorial Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Co-Trustee.
Seattle Foundation COVID Response Phase 3
Seattle People’s Fund
St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund
Stansbury Foundation
United Way of King County
Warm Water Giving Project