Seattle is lucky to have very engaged, empathetic, and generous citizens, who often want to do whatever they can to serve those most in need. This generosity sometimes comes in the form of direct donation of food. While this may seem to be a simple and straight-forward method of helping out it can actually do more harm than good. We’ve compiled a list of best practices for those who want to contribute.

FAQ’s About Serving and Sharing Meals in Seattle

Can we just serve a meal in the public parks?

The short answer is: No. We value your mission to serve. Because of the very visible un-housed population in the downtown corridor, there is a belief that the need for hunger relief is going unmet. This is not the case. There is a vast network providing safe, health department compliant meals, daily, for the hungry and food insecure in Seattle neighborhoods. It is not legal or safe to serve a meal in a public park for many reasons, including food safety, cleanliness, local business concerns, public safety, especially regarding youth volunteers, and most of all, the health and wellness of those being served.

What do you mean, no?! It’s a PUBLIC park!

Seattle parks are a place for all community members to enjoy.  When unsanctioned/non-permitted providers arrive to serve a meal without obtaining all thenecessary information, it causes a great deal of stress on the Parks & Rec system.  Maintenance is provided when permitted events are scheduled, ensuring garbage removal to eliminate the unsightly messes or health hazards.  When unsanctioned and/or out-of-town providers serve in a park, they may not be aware that other providers have just served a meal.  This leads to a glut of food in one area, and a waste of resources; it can cause garbage cans to overflow, litter, and rodent/pest problems. This makes our public parks unsafe and not enjoyable.

But my food is SAFE!

The health department has many codes for food prepared for the public; even those who are sharing/giving away/serving food for no cost must follow these regulations. Food must be prepared in health department certified kitchens, transported in a way that assures safe temperature compliance in catering standard equipment, and in vehicles that have no possibility of cross contamination.  A hand washing receptacle must be provided.  Garbage must be separated from recyclables and compost, and hauled off-site.  Hazardous and potentially hazardous foods, such as potatoes, rice, pasta and hard boiled eggs must be consumed immediately and not carried away.  Those who live un-sheltered often do not seek medical treatment, so although it is often said “we never have made anyone sick,” this may not be the case.

Where can I find Health Codes?

Visit the Department of Health Website.

Who is serving the people in the downtown corridor?

There are several indoor meal programs in the downtown corridor, as well as Seattle’s Outdoor Meal Site, which was designed for consistent providers who follow health department and nutritional guidelines to serve those who cannot (for whatever reason) go inside.  Providers are both civic and faith based. No-cost meals are served in Seattle seven days each week; breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Current meal time schedules can be found by calling 2-1-, 206-922-2015, or visiting

Where CAN we hand out food?

There are many options.  Please consider serving your own community; there are a large number of food insecure individuals throughout the region who are not being served because homelessness is not as visible in their neighborhood.  Many people who are hungry are housed! Work within your area, with local government or other human service providers to serve people where they live!

I still would like to serve downtown.

Let us help! You can either consider serving as a volunteer with one of the many sanctioned organizations that provide meals, or you can schedule a time to serve at the Outdoor Meal Site, provided that all health department and nutritional qualifications are met.

Meal Programs Need Volunteers

Seattle has a great network of meal providers to serve the unsheltered and food insecure in the downtown corridor, whose goals are to provide meals in a safe and respectful way.  Please join these civic and faith-based organizations in meeting the needs of the hungry while following health department standards.