YMCA’s New Mobile Program Takes Summer Lunches/Activities to Where They’re Needed Most

Volunteers prepare before helping to give out food during a Community Food Bank of Central Alabama food distribution day through the YMCA of Greater Birmingham.

Food insecurity is all too real.

At the end of a recent Saturday event put on by the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, for example, one of the children in attendance — let’s call her Jayla — was ready to go home. She grabbed a take-away lunch and hopped in her family’s car.

But just moments later, the little girl came running back into the building in tears, said Terri Harvill, the YMCA’s Chief Social Impact Officer. Jayla’s mother had sent her back to find out if any more meals were available for her siblings who had no food at home.

“Whatever you need, take it,” Harvill recalls telling Jayla.

Food insecurity has been a lasting issue in Central Alabama and the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, a partner agency of United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA), has consistently worked to address the problem. Now, the YMCA is creating a mobile feeding and engagement program to be deployed to underserved pockets of the metro area.

For each of the nine YMCA locations throughout the Birmingham area, one or more neighborhoods will be identified for mobile programming throughout the summer. Food will be provided for children who normally depend on school lunches but don’t have access to food when school is out.

In addition, the YMCA plans to offer children a variety of engagement opportunities, such as a mobile library, physical activity and a visit with local firefighters.

Harvill said that many of the children the YMCA hopes to serve in this way may not have older siblings or adults watching them during the day in the summer. This program aims to bring positive adults into those children’s days.

“It may be as simple as playing a game of hide and seek; but with a caring adult, that looks different. We want [children] to know that there are adults and people who care about them,” Harvill said. “Relationship is at the center of everything that we do.”

Susan Becker, Group Vice President, said the YMCA is currently building on its existing partnerships to grow the number of opportunities they can bring to children this summer. Right now, area school systems have been helping identify which communities have the most need and what those needs are – in addition to food.

“There are just so many things that we can do through this program,” Becker said, “and I think it will only continue to build throughout the summer.”

This is just the latest in the YMCA’s efforts to address food insecurity in the communities it serves. For years, YMCA locations have served as food distribution sites for the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, another UWCA partner agency. Summer feeding programs have been offered inside the facilities themselves. And leadership from the YMCA has worked directly with United Way to strategize how to address food insecurity throughout Central Alabama. For more information about UWCA’s work to eradicate food insecurity, visit https://www.uwca.org/impact/hunger-relief.