Living in the Time of COVID-19: Chef Traci Steps Up in Difficult Times
These are extraordinary times. Extraordinary times inspire extraordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Traci Calderon, owner and chef at the Pike Place Market’s Atrium Kitchen, is one of those folks.
In a matter of days, once large gatherings were prohibited in Washington state because of COVID-19 Chef Traci – as she’s known in her Pike Place neighborhood – watched her catering and events business dry up. Nine months of income gone from booked cooking classes and catering jobs that support her efforts to feed food insecure residents.
Over the last three years at Atrium Kitchen in Pike Place Market, Traci and her staff alongside volunteers have hosted hot meals once a month for anyone and everyone, including low-income seniors who live in the market apartments, people living homeless, folks who work downtown and in Pike Place and visitors to Seattle. In addition, she offers a pay-it-forward breakfast each Friday, where diners could buy a $5 breakfast, which in turn provided a breakfast to someone in need of nourishment.
The advent of COVID-19 turned everything upside down. Instead of packing up to wait it out, though, Chef Traci got back to work, preparing free fresh-made meals for the downtown community, as well as the neighborhoods of Queen Anne, Ballard, and Capitol Hill.
But demand surged and the logistics got more complicated. To help prevent the spread of the virus, shelters moved to shelter-in-place 24 hours a day, instead of closing during daytime hours. The impact on the shelters like St. Martin de Porres was huge – they were left with vast shortages of funds, food, and volunteers.
Each day, Chef Traci and staffer Jonah prepare breakfast and lunch for 120 older men living at St. Martin de Porres, and hit the streets to deliver additional meals to the unhoused still on the street. In addition to feeding people living homeless, they deliver up to 150 prepackaged hot meals per week within the market and surrounding neighborhoods for low-income seniors.
Over the past eight weeks, the team has provided more than 3,200 meals. The demand continues to rise, and the need is astonishing: Chef Traci said she averaged 3,000 meals a YEAR since 2017.
But it’s difficult to keep up with growing demand with shriveled income. The staff is working on a volunteer basis; Chef Traci’s application for a Paycheck Protection Plan loan through the Small Business Administration was denied. While she’s benefited from the generosity of other market businesses like Sosio’s, Frank’s Produce, and Uli’s Sausage, she’s cognizant that they’re suffering too, so soliciting in-kind donations is no longer an option.
SHW is partnering with Chef Traci to help support her efforts to feed the people in need through this crisis. We are working with other partners in our industry to gather donations to help Chef Traci sustain her service to the community for the next eight weeks, to provide another 3,500-4,000 meals.
Their needs are:
Cash (to buy food)
Food donations: proteins like chicken, beef, pork, and sausage; fresh produce; grains
Food containers to package meals
Face Masks: prefer the paper ones; homemade masks are difficult to work in all day