N2N Spotlight: Eritrean Association in Greater Seattle

By Aileen Balahadia,

Neighbor to Neighbor Program Consultant, and Elaine Chu, Senior Philanthropic Advisor

Back in 1996, local Eritrean immigrants and refugees were looking for a safe place to call home, so the community pooled its money to purchase an old house on a side street near where I-90 meets Rainier Avenue. That house became the anchor for the Eritrean Association in Greater Seattle (EAGS) until a new, expanded Eritrean Community Center opened in 2012. Despite rising costs of living that have displaced many communities of color from the city in the years since then, the Center remains a bustling hub of activity—owned and operated by and for the Eritrean community.

The Center engages 4,000 people every year, providing access to basic needs, including hot meals and pantry and household supplies, and various resources, such as computer and employment support, cultural preservation programs, and education programs for kids and adults. But COVID-19 forced the Center to temporarily close its doors and suspend many of its services and activities, including programs for youth, women, and seniors.

But not every program stopped when the pandemic began—the organization knew one of their critical programs needed to continue. The Eritrean Senior Lunch Program usually provides low-income, isolated immigrant and refugee seniors with healthy East African meals three days a week at the Center. (These meals also create opportunities for social interaction, age-appropriate exercise, health screenings, a weekly food pantry, and information about healthy aging and community resources.) But during the pandemic, the Center is adapting this program in order to continue serving seniors. With flexible funds from Neighbor to Neighbor, it is currently providing weekly hot meals and food pantry items to 200 seniors. Members of the community are also checking in with seniors to ensure their wellness using apps like WhatsApp and FaceTime, making phone calls, and doing home visits.

EAGS has employed a unique strategy for its meal program: hiring Uber or Lyft drivers from the Eritrean community to help deliver food. The organization originally recruited volunteers to deliver, but ran into challenges around trip planning and lack of experience navigating the streets. By hiring experienced drivers who spoke the right languages, EAGS created more efficient delivery and improved communication while providing employment to folks experiencing a loss of work due to COVID-19.

In times of crisis and uncertainty, community and mutual aid groups like EAGS are critical, essential assets for our most vulnerable communities. During our recent virtual site visit, we had an opportunity to talk with Isaac Araya, Board President of EAGS, who spoke proudly of the organization’s work during this difficult time: “I can personally say we have tracked down every one of our seniors in our program and know they are being taken care of and have hot food if they need it.”

Learn more about Eritrean Association in Greater Seattle.

All of the N2N grantees from the Spring 2020 cycle are listed below.

  1. American Polynesian Organization*: To support the senior nutrition meal program for Pacific Islander families primarily in South Seattle. Due to COVID-19, the organization has shifted to mobile food delivery, but normally seniors receive nutrition education, medical exams, access to resources and strong community fellowship in the program.
  2. Black Farmers Collective*: To support urban, communities of color ability to grow, share produce, and promote healthy living through community-built art and educational videos at the YES Farm in Yesler Terrace.
  3. Eritrean Association of Greater Seattle: To support the Eritrean Senior Lunch Program which provides low-income, isolated seniors with healthy East African meals. Normally they meet in person for social interaction, exercise, health screenings, a weekly food pantry, and access to resources, but due to COVID19, they are delivering meals and keeping in touch virtually.
  4. LGBTQ Allyship: To deepen the SKC Housing Committee effort to support South King County and Kent’s LGBTQ+ communities of color who feel unsafe seeking rental assistance from religious institutions. It is forming a partnership with three SKC faith-based organizations to model and create a pledge form that publicly commits them to being LGBTQ+ global majority friendly.
  5. Matumaini Counseling: To support the African American community and efforts to destigmatize mental health and reimagine community wellness and behavioral health through facilitated, participatory community forums in South Seattle.
  6. Panama Folklore*: To support the Panamanian/Hispanic community in South Seattle to learn and support issues of health, finance, politics, and climate awareness by training motivational speakers  and leaders in the community and having them showcase at a community oratory event.
  7. Somos Seattle: To support LGBTQ, undocumented, and other Latinx communities by training social media organizers to expand their reach in educating and providing resources to the most vulnerable in the community.
  8. Wasat*: To support building a diverse Muslim American community leadership through trainings, cultural enrichment, and events virtually and in South Seattle, in order to reduce social isolation, build stronger bonds, and bridge differences in the community.

*Indicates first-time N2N grantee

We invite you to learn more about the history of the Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) program by watching this short video. You may also explore additional information about Seattle Foundation’s Neighbor to Neighbor program and the Center for Community Partnerships.