The Most Valuable Restaurant in Spokane

Going out to dinner is something many of us take for granted. There are thousands of people in our community who can’t afford to go out to dinner, and the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant (WCFR) is a great way for low income women and children to have an unforgettable restaurant experience.

I spoke with Lisa Diffley, executive director at WCFR, about what the organization is doing to combat hunger in our community, in a creative and uplifting way. Lisa has worked at WCFR since 2014, after previously working as the executive director at Women Helping Women Fund (WHWF). The free restaurant is available to women and children up to the age of 19. They are greeted by a host, and served as though they are at any regular restaurant.

They have a program called Nutrition-To-Go, which is a 2018-2019 grant recipient program of WHWF. The Nutrition-To-Go program delivers meals to other locations by working with more than a dozen agencies to provide food for people to consume who have transportation barriers. This program also provides food for organizations like the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. When families pick their children up from the nursery, they are able to take meals home with them. “It is a way to take even more stress out of situations for families in crisis,” said Lisa.

The WCFR has grown drastically in the last few decades. 31 years ago, the organization served about 700 meals a year. Last year, they served 80,000 meals, and this year, they are on track to serve 90,000. “No one has to qualify to come here, we serve anyone who walks through that door. However, most of the people served often have an income of less than $5,000 a year. Food is such a basic, but expensive need, and we are providing it in a way these women and children really value”, Lisa explains.

WCFR differentiates itself from other food service organizations. There are only a few organizations in the entire country who have full service free restaurants. “So many organizations are providing food which is so necessary, but we do it differently. We want people that don’t have the means to have a restaurant experience to come in and eat healthy and nutritious food.”

Lisa explained that many women come in with their children who often don’t realize it is a free restaurant. “Parents value that aspect of it, giving their kids a restaurant experience that they don’t realize is free,” mentioned Lisa.

In the United States, 1 in 5 children and 1 in 7 adults are food insecure. In Spokane, 1 in 4 children and 1 in 5 adults are food insecure. The issue is even larger in our own community. “It’s startling when you realize 25% of kids in our community are in need of food. 90% of kids in lower income neighborhoods are on free and reduced lunch programs. But that is why we are here. That is why we do what we do.” -Lisa

I asked Lisa why they have continued to serve only women and children at the restaurant, and she responded, “Women make 73 cents for every dollar a man makes in the same jobs in Spokane. These woman are working just as hard, and many have the responsibilities of taking care of their kids. A big misconception is that people who come here don’t work. But many of them are working women, and the deck is just stacked against them.”

Lisa has big goals for the organization and Nutrition-To-Go program moving forward. “I want to continue to grow it, but in a smart way,” said Lisa. She is committed to providing healthy, fresh foods. She said she never wants to decrease the quality of the food by trying to grow too quickly. “We want to keep our standards high,” she said.

WCFR has several new partners scheduled to come on over the next year. “An alternative school and an organization that serves developmentally disabled adults will be served many meals by Nutrition-To-Go throughout the next year. Many of these people are isolated and not in the best living situations, Lisa explained. Many people who benefit from Nutrition-To-Go and figure out where the food came from then come in to have a restaurant experience.

Lisa and her staff, which includes an executive chef and two professional cooks, along with many volunteers, are excited to continue to watch this organization grow. If you want to be a part of seeing WCFR provide even more meals and experiences to women and children in Spokane, you can:

-Volunteer. WCFR is always looking for hosts and servers to work in the restaurant. Click here to view the volunteer application.

-Donate! WCFR has a monthly donor program called, “Bread and Butter Donors”. To become a monthly donor, click here.

Heather Hamlin


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