Free food for seniors program on the line as Meraki Creations closes its doors

Owner says COVID-19 loan, grant assistance limited for start-up businesses

YAKIMA, Wash. — Fifty-two days. That’s how long Meraki Creations was open in Yakima before it had to shutter its doors under Washington state’s stay at home order.

The restaurant was the product of years of dreaming by Toppenish native Angie DeVora, who aspired to create a space where everyone was welcome and people felt free to be who they were.

“I wanted to be able to give back to my community, feed my community and collaborate with other community agencies to make a difference,” DeVora said.

She named her restaurant after the Greek word meraki, which means to create something — like food or art — with such passion and joy that an essence of love remains within the creation.

“Meraki Creations allowed me to love my community and give back the love and help people,” DeVora said. “Now, having been open only 52 days, we are fighting to stay open.”

Meraki Creations opened Jan. 31 and temporarily closed shut down on March 22. The restaurant reopened in May, but was forced to close again Monday due to the financial strain of the pandemic — this time, maybe, for good.

DeVora said she hopes that’s not the case and she’s not giving up on her business or on giving to others.

“I’ve had people say, ‘Just close. Give up. It’s okay. You tried,'” DeVora said. “But that’s not the blood that runs through me. That’s not my grandfather and that’s not how I was raised.”

DeVora was raised by her grandparents and when the pandemic struck, she remembered how much help they needed as they aged and recounted stories of their family’s experience with food insecurity, when her grandfather was working on the Burlington Northern Railroad.

“My grandfather, who had seven children at the time, was eating out of a garbage can to send my grandmother his full paycheck for her and the kids,” DeVora said. “And I swore when I heard that story as a young girl, that I would never let his sacrifice be done in vain and that I would always, always try to help and make sure that no one has to eat out of a garbage can if I’m involved or if I’m aware of it.”

In her grandfather’s spirit, DeVora created a free lunch program for seniors, working to bring food to up to 50 people a day throughout the valley, even as her business was closed.

“I invested enough to buy a very humble sack lunch of peanut butter and jelly, some fruits and nuts and snacks,” DeVora said.

With the help of volunteers at Champions Foundation and substantial community donations, the program was able to bring food to people throughout the Yakima Valley, many of whom were high-risk individuals afraid to leave their homes due to the virus.

“The people that we’re feeding, they don’t have anybody,” DeVora said. “That’s why we’re feeding them.”

DeVora said she tried to stay open — as much as she could under the stay at home order — for as long as she could to keep providing meals for those people who may otherwise go without, but the financial picture continued to get dimmer.

While DeVora received a Paycheck Protection Program loan and it helped her stay open a little longer, the funds were limited and couldn’t help with all the expenses racking up during the pandemic.

When looking for additional assistance, she kept coming up against the same barrier: a requirement that businesses applying for loans or grants must have been in business for at least a year.

“No matter how old or young a business it, it’s the impact of that business that can really change a community and help people,” DeVora said. “If there’s help out there, if there’s funding out there for startups like me, we need to know about it.”

Yakima County Development Association told KAPP-KVEW there are currently no financial resources available specifically for start-ups and that those new businesses don’t qualify for other funds due to that one-year rule.

In the meantime, DeVora’s daughter created a GoFundMe page for Meraki Creations, asking the community to help keep her mother’s restaurant going and in turn, to help DeVora continue to help the community.

“Her intention is to serve yummy homemade creations while simultaneously serving and giving back to the community,” her daughter said on the page. “From sack lunches for kids, meals for the elderly, and disabled, to hosting dinners for the homeless population around town, my mother wanted EVERYONE to feel welcome at Meraki Creations regardless of nationality, financial status, race, or sexual orientation.”

DeVora said asking for help doesn’t come naturally, but she feels she’s exhausted all other options.

“I’m going to fight to the end and a part of that fight is asking for help,” DeVora said. “It’s not easy to ask for help, but that’s the only way I’m going to be able to continue to do what we do here.”

But in this case, she’s had to learn that it’s okay to ask for help, especially if that’s what’s needed for her to be able to return to feeding those community members who may otherwise be without food.

“We’re all in the same storm, but we’re in different boats; some of us are in yachts, some of us are in dinghies and some of us are treading water,” DeVora said. “We have to help one another.We have to be considerate.”

DeVora continued, saying “We have to remember that we’re all still humans trying to survive and navigate through this the best that we can.”