More than swimming and workouts: YMCA's meals program to provide 1,000 meals daily during shutdown

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo  series and our ongoing COVID-19 coverage. If you have a story of how the community is responding to the pandemic please let us know here.

The YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo isn’t just a place to swim and work out.

Its ongoing mission, as explained by Ben Davis, is to support youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. To that end, it is collaborating with the Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center in Augusta to increase the number of snacks and meals it provides to 1,000 per day during this pandemic crisis.

With a combination of food prepared at its 1001 W. Maple St. location and with contributions from Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes and other local food pantries, the YMCA has been providing about 300 snacks and meals per day to young people in some of Kalamazoo’s most vulnerable neighborhoods since schools were shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the closure on March 12, has signaled school will not likely resume this school year, and that an announcement to that effect is expected this week.

Starting April 1, the YMCA will collaborate with the Sherman Lake YMCA, says Davis, who is the chief advancement officer for the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo.

“So we’re going to combine efforts and we’ll use a pretty robust facility (the Sherman Lake Y facilities at 6225 N. 39th St. in Augusta),” he says. “We’re going to combine efforts and, between the two Ys -- their kitchen facilities and our distribution team -- we are going to more than triple our efforts.” 

He says the expanded program will continue to use the Kalamazoo YMCA’s bus to transport the food and “to expand the service to 500 lunches and 500 dinners.” He says the increase sprang out of a critical need.

“Our schools continue to provide a critical safety net for vulnerable families,” Davis says. “Healthy and nutritious food is a part of that.”

“Kalamazoo Public Schools is doing a wonderful job of distributing lunches but there are families that we are finding that can fall through the cracks,” Davis says. “That is where we step in.”

Distributing food to those in need has been an ongoing service of the Y, which also has academic enrichment programs and other learning opportunities for youngsters at its YMCA Program at Lincoln International Studies School and other locations. It is supported by individual contributions and grants received by the Y as well as some state funding.

“While we will receive some reimbursement through the state, that is the least of our concerns,” Davis says of the community meals project. “Our goal and that of the Sherman Lake YMCA is to make sure our families survive this crisis. And it starts with making sure children and families don’t go hungry.” 

He says it has been fun to see people’s surprised reactions to the effort. “They see the Y as a place to swim and gym; a place to work out,” Davis says.

Mentioning the Y’s earliest mission as the Young Men’s Christian Association – to offer a safe place for young men in large cities – he says the Y has evolved into much more than that.

“The Y has continually tried to identify and meet critical community needs,” he says. “In the crisis we’re in now, the most critical needs we see evolving are the ones none of us thought we’d see. Those are families left without healthy, nutritious food because schools are closed for the pandemic.”

He says the YMCA is trying to help build a stronger community by stepping up to fill a void that some would see as non-traditional for the Y.

“But it’s part of who we are as an organization,” Davis says. “It’s part of our DNA as an organization to be nimble and adaptable in identifying community needs and trying to meet them.”

He says anyone interested in contributing to support the effort or to volunteer, may contact him here

There is also information about the organization’s pandemic relief efforts on its main page and via its Y-COVID page:

Although the Y closed on March 16 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it is offering some online programs, such as virtual workout opportunities.

Information about efforts at the Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center is available here.

The schedule for lunch deliveries through the Meals for the Community program will be:

• 11 to 11:20 a.m. at Gull Run/Gull Prairie Apartments, 4495 Gull Run Drive;

• 11:30 to 11:50 a.m. at Riverview Co-op, 1028 Bridge St.

The schedule for dinner deliveries will be:

• 4 to 4:20 p.m. at Savannah Trace Town Homes, 5066 Meadows Blvd.;

• 4:30 to 4:50 p.m. at the Douglass Community Association, 1000 W. Paterson St.

Davis says those locations are expected to augment some of the food distribution work that is already being done by the Kalamazoo Public Schools. “We picked sites that would be helpful to augment and supplement, without overlapping what they’re doing,” Davis says.

Through its after-school and summertime programs, the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo served 21,542 snacks and 577 meals during 2019. Starting in January of 2020, it began serving dinner every day in the middle school program at its Maple Street location. It has averaged 52 meals per day.

When school is in session, its school-age child care program sees a total of 444 youngsters each school day. They include: 67 youngsters at King-Westwood Elementary; 44 at the Maple Street Y location; 52 at Milwood Elementary; 81 at Parkwood-Upjohn; 46 at Prairie Ridge; and 79 at Winchell. That afterschool program sees another 60 to 75 youngsters at Lincoln International Studies School.
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Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.