The YMCA of Western North Carolina has marked an impressive yet sobering milestone by serving more than 1 million healthy, nutritious meals to kids in need since 2013.
The Y serves healthy meals and snacks during its afterschool, summer day camp, and other full and half-day child care programs, and also delivers meals throughout the year to community sites located in food deserts.
The award-winning feeding program is funded by the USDA and supported by many community partners, including local school systems and chefs.
One in seven North Carolinians suffers from food insecurity, and hunger has increased during the pandemic. The need is especially great for children.
"I am so hungry by the time I get to afterschool. I am so happy every day to have a tasty snack to look forward to. It is so good," said a YMCA childcare student.
The Y serves meals daily to every child enrolled in YMCA childcare programs in Buncombe, Henderson, and McDowell counties. Each meal is comprised of HEPA (Healthy Eating Physical Activity) compliant components that meet the USDA meal pattern requirements.
Each meal includes a serving each of whole grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat milk. The Y began offering HEPA meals and snacks to combat rising rates of childhood obesity, which can lead to chronic health conditions.
"I love that I do not have to worry if the meals are healthy, because the YMCA does that for me, and teaches me to know the difference," another YMCA childcare student said.
The Y also hosts Saturday meal sites at the Ferguson Family YMCA in Candler and Corpening Memorial YMCA in Marion. Meals are available for children 18 and under, with enough food for two days.
“I am honored to be part of an amazing team dedicated to improving our neighbors’ access to nutritious foods,” said Stephanie Stewart, executive director of the Y’s Community Health programs. “This important milestone motivates us to continue on our path and grow relationships with communities and partners for a collective impact.”
Y’s Pandemic Response
The Y had to shift and adapt many of its programs when the pandemic began, but the health crisis also presented an opportunity to increase access to nutritious food for people across western North Carolina.
Starting last spring, the Y joined forces with several partners to provide meals to even more people, including seniors and first responders. A partnership with Wicked Weed, for instance, resulted in more than 40,000 meals delivered during 2020.
Free, Healthy Food for All
In addition to its meal programs, the Y hosts more than 30 mobile food markets in Buncombe, Henderson, McDowell, Madison, and Haywood counties every month. The food is free for all with no questions asked.
As a nonprofit community benefit organization, the Y relies on volunteers and donors to support its hunger relief efforts.
(Feb. 11, 2021)