Joined at the HIP

The Hunger Intervention Program provides food security for underserved populations through nutritional meals, educational programs, and advocacy.

TORY BY NICOLE CAPOZZIELLO
ILLUSTRATIONS BY SONYA MONTENEGRO

67 … 68 … 69 … 70. It’s 9:30 on a Monday morning, and I’m counting out garlic cloves into a little mound. I slice all 70 — a process that goes more quickly than I’d anticipated — and place them next to the 15 pounds of collard green before me. Behind me, Arlene and Bonnie measure flour for the apple-cheddar crumble, while Pat and Griffin take up the split pea soup. Earl, usually the baker, whips cream to soft peaks in the industrial mixer. A couple of other volunteers work on a fresh green salad, tossing lettuce and spinach, grating carrots, dicing cucumbers.

We’re at Lake City Presbyterian Church, where the nonprofit Hunger Intervention Program (HIP) has its offices and kitchen, prepping for the regular Senior Community Meal. Originally an arm of OPERATION: Sack Lunch, HIP became its own nonprofit in 2008. Seeing a need in North Seattle, HIP has focused on serving North King County, striving to increase “food security for underserved populations through nutritional meals, educational programs, and advocacy.”

During the school year, the Healthy HIP Packs Program provides weekend meals for students who receive free and reduced-priced lunches. Over the summer, HIP helps families extend their food budget by partnering with other community organizations to offer Summer Eats for Kids. Throughout the year, they work with other organizations to offer cooking and nutrition classes tailored to the needs of the people they serve.

“The population changes, and every year our need grows,” says Linda Berger, co-founder of HIP and still a regular volunteer. “And we adapt. That’s a signature piece of HIP: We identify a need, but that need can change and we change with it, partnering with other organizations to figure out what role we’re best able to fill.”

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, HIP takes part in the Senior Community Meal, a collaboration among HIP, Sound Generations, Lake City Community Center, and Sea Mar Community Health Centers.

“What’s unique about our senior meals program,” says Srijan Chakraborty, HIP executive director, “is the community aspect.” Indeed, many programs bring food to people. But for the Senior Community Meal, people come to the Lake City Community Center to eat together.

The food is also created in community; the Monday that I’m there, the volunteers chat over coffee and baked goods as Darcy Buendia, HIP’s meal program manager, unveils the menu.

We’re prepping a special Southern menu for Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.

We’ll transport the entire meal to Lake City Community Center around 11:30 for the noon-sharp serving time. While waiting to cook the collard greens, I cube stale bread for future croutons or bread pudding and talk to Earl, a retired Safeco cook, who brings his own knives and his own music. With Earl’s R&B mirroring the upbeat, bustling mood of the kitchen, I ask him his favorite thing to bake. “Probably rolls,” he says with pride. “People love the rolls.”

“That’s because they’re used to bread like this,” I say, wagging a limp, donated grocery store baguette in his direction. “Homemade yeast rolls? Those are special.” Every meal that HIP serves is made with the intention of it being special. Each guest is seated, served at set, tableclothed tables, and given a plate of food that is not only nutritious but attractive and tasty. It’s a recognition that food represents not just fuel but community and connection, and that being in need doesn’t mean being without dignity.

Darcy determines the menu, which is released monthly. “Lasagna’s always popular,” she tells me. “People also love the sandwich and soup days — there’s something really comforting about a good sandwich and soup.”

For me, a home cook and lifelong volunteer, I find myself surprised at how new and fun cooking in a commercial kitchen feels. I make collard greens at home — but 15 pounds of collard greens? This, it turns out, is what I’ve been training for.

I don’t want the collard greens to cook too long, so I keep pushing the starting time until Barbara firmly suggests that I begin. She’s right — with 15 pounds of collard greens, I barely have enough time. Olive oil shimmers in the incomprehensible two-foot-wide saucepan. I add the garlic and collard greens, quickly losing track of where the bottom of the pan is. Pat heads off to get the apple cider vinegar, only to return a moment later with a bottle of red wine vinegar and the announcement, “We have a substitution!”

A volunteer for three years, Pat is one of the newer additions to the team. “I was telling a friend about how upsetting it was that kids were going hungry over the summer — this is America,” she says, exasperated. Her friend told her about HIP, and Pat started volunteering with the Summer Eats for Kids program before moving to the Senior Community Meal program’s prep team on Mondays.

As she finishes up the split pea soup, she extends a spoon to me. “Do you want to try some?” she asks. “Does it need anything?” We’d been worried it wasn’t breaking down enough, watery instead of thick and rich, but it’s perfect.

We pack the finished dishes into catering pans, which then get loaded into enclosed carts for transport by van to the nearby Lake City Community Center. When we pull up, Kris is already outside waiting for us, clearly a post she’s taken up many times. We ease the carts up the sidewalk and into the building, and then it’s showtime. Immediately, the catering pans go into their slots, as they have hundreds of times before, and we start serving: a plate with a bowl of split pea soup, a scoop of garlicky collard greens, a tongful of salad, a biscuit. Time goes quickly, as I inexpertly man the salad tongs and try not to feel a little hurt when a few people ask for their meal without collard greens.

A crew of volunteers is all ready to serve the guests, seated at their tables. “Oh, it’s very cliquey,” laughs Darcy. “People sit in those same spots every time.” There’s also a table for Spanish speakers, part of Sea Mar’s outreach to the North End Latino community.

The meal is served in conjunction with programming, as always — Sea Mar–presented activities in Spanish, fitness classes like yoga, and Social Work consultations provided by Sound Generations — and, on this day, a special afternoon showing of the documentary 13th.

During the meal, a man who all the volunteers know, shows up in a rough state. He’s agitated and unpredictable, but the volunteers aren’t intimidated, just concerned. Darcy and Linda take him and a to-go meal outside.

While the meal is intended for seniors, no one is turned away — people in need, of all ages, come, whether it’s just once or regularly. And very little, if any, food goes to waste. We’ve prepared food for 100, and after everyone has been served, and the dessert course — apple-cheddar crumble with a dollop of whipped cream — has gone out, people can get a ticket to take a meal home, or to a friend or family member. People line up, some coming prepared with their own to-go containers. “I’ll take more of the salad,” they direct. While I help dole out to-go meals, some volunteers take a turn eating while others clean up. I notice that Linda and Darcy are back.

“As soon as he had a little split pea soup, some salad, he was remarkably different,” Linda says of the agitated man. “Maybe he needed food, maybe attention, maybe he needed a familiar place or face — I don’t know. But, it was important. And that’s what it’s all about.”


Nicole Capozziello grew up in her family’s Italian restaurant in Wisconsin. She is a freelance writer and tour guide at Theo Chocolate.

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