Spokane, Washington – The story of the Women & Children’s Free Restaurant began in a church basement in 1988. The restaurant came about as a safe place where women and children impacted by domestic violence could come and sit down for a peaceful, nutritious meal.
Today, the Women & Children’s Free Restaurant is located in its own facility at 1408 N. Washington Street here in Spokane, and it recently received some funding from the Avista Foundation.
In those early days, staff working in the basement kitchen cranked out several hundred meals for every dinner, often made completely from donated food items. Some days, boxes of homegrown veggies showed up – other days there would be berries and tomatoes and mountains of zucchini – there was a new menu for every meal.
The Women & Children’s Free Restaurant made a point of setting pretty tables with flowers and other decorations, and the families who came in for dinner were waited on by volunteers. It was like a real restaurant - except it was free.
In 2014, the Women & Children’s Free Restaurant moved out of the basement and into its current building. A new kitchen more than tripled the capacity compared to the basement kitchen, and the restaurant continued to serve three nutritious, made-from-scratch meals each week.
When COVID hit everything changed. The need for free meals increased ten-fold according to the Women’s & Children’s Free Restaurant’s website: In 2019, the restaurant provided 95,000 meals, but in the years 2020 and 2021 more than one million nutritious meals were prepped at this amazing meal site. The huge increase in need combined with COVID restrictions also meant the restaurant had to shift to curbside services as a way to serve as many families as possible.
The high level of need has continued in 2022, but the hope is for the restaurant at some point to be able to go back to the original model of table services and volunteer waiters.
Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant also cooks meals for other social services organizations such as Catholic Charities, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and The Salvation Army. And the kitchen puts on a lavish meal for the annual fall fundraiser, Dinner on the Bridge in Riverfront Park.
Every day, a small full-time, professional, kitchen staff is aided by dozens of volunteers who sort, prep, and help with culinary tasks in all the different areas of the kitchen. If cooking isn't your thing, then volunteers are also needed for meal distribution, and to pick up donated food from restaurants, wholesalers, and food banks.
Most of the thousands of pounds of ingredients that pass through this kitchen are donated by organizations or private donors. There is an updated wish list on the website, but dairy items, wholesale-size containers of spices, ground coffee, and teabags are always needed.
At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.