Seattle Pedaling Relief Uses Bicycles to Combat Hunger

The grassroots initiative that uses bicycles to make food bank deliveries has helped 370 households and carried nearly 4.5 tons of food to date. Now the program is expanding. Join us for a ride-along.

Seattle Pedaling Relief, a grassroots initiative that enlists bicyclists to deliver food to households in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, is expanding to serve more neighborhoods citywide. The bike brigade is also partnering with Seattle’s P-Patch Community Gardening Program to harvest and deliver fruits and vegetables to food banks by bike. 

“Our goal is to give cyclists an opportunity to get involved in their neighborhoods, no matter where they live, in this time when many people are experiencing food insecurity,” says Seattle Pedaling Relief co-founder Maxwell Burton. 

The program had delivered a massive 8,520 pounds of food (nearly four-and-a-half tons) to about 370 households as of Tuesday, June 30.

Seattle Pedaling Relief is currently working with four food banks--El Centro de la Raza, University District, Rainier Valley, and Byrd Barr Place, and is also partnering with the Alleycat Acres urban farming collective to solicit and deliver produce. In addition, all 54 P-Patch Community Gardens in the city have been urged to contact Seattle Pedaling Relief if they need help harvesting and delivering produce to food banks.

“We are always looking for more volunteers,” says Burton, who is communicating with additional food banks in West Seattle and South Seattle with the hope of expanding to more neighborhoods and helping an even greater number of people. About 50 people with bicycles have volunteered so far. 

Burton, a skilled bike mechanic and instructor who was furloughed from his job as the fleet mechanic for Cascade in March, founded the program with his friend Mike Lang, a cargo bike enthusiast and mechanic. They were collaborating on plans for the next Disaster Relief Trials, a competition where cargo bikes are used to deliver heavy supplies as part of a mock disaster such as an earthquake, when the COVID-19 crisis emerged. 

“We realized this was no longer a trial, this was actually a disaster that we needed to provide relief for,” Burton says. “Many families rely on schools to help feed their kids, and with schools closed those meals are no longer available. Also, many families have lost jobs. All across Seattle we are seeing rising financial insecurity and food insecurity.”

After initially partnering with Cascade to solicit volunteers, the program continues to grow independently. Burton and Lang recently launched a website, http://pedalingrelief.org, where people with bikes can volunteer and learn about the project’s goals. For those who lack a cargo bike, Seattle Pedaling Relief has multiple bike trailers that it lends out to participants.

Hoping to get a closer look and join the effort, I pedaled to the Beacon Hill neighborhood last Wednesday, where about a dozen volunteers riding an assortment of bike styles had gathered at El Centro de la Raza. A Washington National Guard member coordinated the handoff of paper grocery bags stuffed with fresh produce.

“I’m here because during the COVID-19 pandemic a lot of people don’t have enough food, and I’m privileged to have time and to be financially and food secure,” says Han Chen, a graduate of and ride leader for Cascade’s Major Taylor Project

“I see my bike as a means of activism and community involvement,” says Chen, who lives in and grew up in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. A recent college graduate with a strong sense of civic duty, he has been volunteering two days per week to make deliveries. “It’s a good feeling and it’s rewarding to help people in my community.”

Wearing a hi-viz yellow vest and a maroon cycling cap, Burton provided safety and delivery instructions, and a list of addresses with phone numbers. The volunteers then pedaled off in teams of two or three bicyclists. Riding an electric cargo bike, I carried four 20-pound bags in my large saddlebags, while my teammates Charlotte Gamble and Brendan Lang each pulled trailers stuffed with four-to-six bags.

We punched in the addresses on our smartphones and followed directions to the homes, which were located within a radius of several square miles. Upon arriving at each household, and wearing face masks, we knocked or rang the doorbell, then left a bag on the porch and backed away. At each address, people smiled and waved at us through the window or opened their door to thank us as we stood a safe distance away.

Delivering food in this manner is highly important now because many individuals, due to health and safety concerns related to COVID-19, are unable to travel to their neighborhood food bank.  

“It’s so much more efficient to move food throughout the community on bikes rather than having a van driving around,” says Gamble, a mother who works as a policy analyst for a federal agency. She has been working from home for several months and misses her daily bike commute. “This is a nice way for me to help my neighbors and get to ride my bike at the same time.”

Resources:

Learn more and sign up at pedalingrelief.org 

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Paul Tolmé's picture
Paul Tolmé