People from all walks of life enjoy the wide urban space of Hing Hay Park. ICHS’ Congregate Meal Program is on the ground floor of the Bush Asia Hotel, accessible from the steps on the North side of Hing Hay Park. Participants may walk-in every weekday amidst their day in the Chinatown International District • Courtesy

The historic Bush Hotel is one of the largest buildings in Seattle’s Chinatown International District (CID). If one were to visit during a weekday afternoon, you would overhear music, chatting, and the clanging of a busy kitchen. The first floor is a vibrant community space, hosting the International Community Health Service (ICHS) Congregate Meal Program. 

ICHS has been recognized for its work in helping older adults stay socially-active and physically-healthy through this program in the heart of the CID. 

On August 21, the Seattle Human Services Department’s Aging and Disability Services announced that ICHS was one of 13 nonprofits to receive grant funding to sustain in-person congregate meal programs. 

“We are incredibly grateful for the ongoing support from the Seattle Human Services Department to continue this vital program,” said Heidi Wong, ICHS Healthy Aging & Wellness Programs Director.

“From serving daily culturally appropriate meals to Asian elders to providing recreational and educational programs at Bush Asia Hotel community center, the ICHS Congregate Meal Program provides more than just a nutritious home-cooked meal it creates a sense of belonging and fosters community for all those who participate.”

“More than meals”

Congregate Meal Programs are more than simply a meal, according to the National Council on Aging. The program offers people opportunities to socialize, exercise, and nurture their creative talents with each other.

The ICHS Meal Program at the Bush Asia Center in the CID provides adults ages 60 and older, and adults with special needs, with nutritious meals and engaging group activities. 

Data from the City of Seattle show that the Chinatown International District residents had population below the poverty line twice the level than citywide. Concerns over anti-Asian hate crimes sowed fear for elderly Asian Americans, forcing residents to stay indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing further isolation.

Some ICHS Congregate Meal Program participants join in for the full day of exercise, meals, and activities. Other participants come just for the lunch to catch up with friends • Courtesy

Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General, has been outspoken about the mental and physical health impacts of loneliness. Earlier this year, he announced an advisory on the healing effects of social connection and community to prevent social isolation and loneliness. 

Paulo Allarde, ICHS’ Food Services & Congregate Meal Program Supervisor, has seen first-hand how the program makes a difference.

“[When I’m there] seniors come up to me and thank us for reopening the site as this is their means to socialize, do activities such as tai-chi, bingo, karaoke and play mahjong and eat hot meals,” said Allarde. “For many of them, this has become a part of their daily routine and they are glad to have it back.”

“Congregate meals are served at community sites where older people can also socialize, form and maintain relationships, enjoy activities, and get connected to other services and resources,” said Seattle Human Services Department’s Aging and Disability Services Director Mary Mitchell.

“Our congregate meal providers did a phenomenal job feeding our elders during the pandemic. We are extremely grateful for their ongoing commitment to the community.”

ICHS’ Congregate Meal Program accepts walk-ins

ICHS is accepting new participants every day to join the Congregate Meal Program every Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. 

Located on the ground floor of the Bush Hotel located at 409 Maynard Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104. The closest entrance is at Hing Hay Park. The program is free to take part in but a $2.50 donation is suggested.

“All are welcome,” says Allarde. “They can try our food and check out the activities we provide. If money is an issue then they do not have to pay and we will be more than happy to accept them to our program.”

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