You're listening to shaping narratives, a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color brought to you by WGVU, NPR and PBS in West Michigan. In a partnership with the WK Kellogg foundation, the voice of today's podcast is Christine Mwangi. Host of WGVU’s the black, honest truth, a podcast exploring the distinct experiences that African immigrants and African Americans have with blackness. A first generation transplant from Nairobi Kenya. Christine has degrees from both the U S and England, her medical and health background help her find expert voices to discuss health. At home in isolation.
Today, we are joined by Nicole Hansen at district executive director of community engagement and youth development at the YMCA of greater Grand Rapids. Nicole, thank you so much for joining us.
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Yeah. So we know when the pandemic led school districts across the country to close in March, there were a lot of questions about whether children who may face food insecurity would survive and still have access to food. So please tell our listeners about the food distribution program that the YMCA has been running for children in need during this statewide school closure.
Sure. So our YMCA food service department actually provides meals year round to the schools within our community that have, um, a significant number of children that are on free or reduced, um, meal programs. And so. We were ready and um waiting in the wings to, to understand and learn how we could step into, uh, distributing emergency meal sacks to our community. As soon as we knew that schools were potentially going to close. And as soon as we heard, um, what's the extent. Um, and how, you know, far and wide the closures we're going to reach and impact families. We very quickly worked at, um, restructuring, how we operated our kitchen to, um, what was typically a, uh, more of a banquet style family meals, style service program to a meal sack program. And so we connected with many of our community partners who we had already been working with through our community engagement work and ask them, they'd be willing to be a host site. For us. And, um, we created a team and pulled in, uh, employees from the YMCA that are used to being out in the community and working with our community partners and ask them to now we food service distributors. So, um, we identified sites. We started to develop that team and, um, understood the need that was going to be present now that children weren't able to receive, um, in most cases, their breakfast, lunch, and even a snack from, from their school systems. So we definitely stepped into that space and have been providing meals for, um, or kind of wrapping up our seventh week now of, of providing meals. And, um, by the end of the week, we will have surpassed, um, about 50,000 meals that we've served already to the community.
Wow. That is a great initiative, Nicole. So what are the qualifying criteria that families have to meet when they arrive at your host site? And are there any kind of documentation or identification that are needed for them to access food that your host site?
Almost nothing at all. Um, the only thing they need to identify to us is how many children they have. And so their children do not need to be physically present. You know, one of our core values is honesty. And so we're asking that our community be honest with us. So if an adult comes to our food distribution, one of our locations and says that they have five children that they need to feed, we will give them five meal sacks. Each adult is able to get up to 10. Meals for those back at their, at their homes. You know, we understand that and you know, everybody's home is, is made up differently. And we want to make sure that, um, you know, if, if myself as an adult and as a parent or guardian of maybe three kids, I might be living with my sisters or siblings and, and have that extended family living under one roof. And so families, um, or the adults can pick up, um, as many. You know, youth meals as many children's meals, as they identify up to 10 meals per day.
We don't need documentation. We don't need to know their address. We don't need to even see the children present. Um, we just ask that, you know, they be honest with us and we'll provide them the meals that they need.
Wow, that sounds very, very accessible. And I'm sure our community is very grateful that this service is so accessible. So do you know or have an idea of how long this program will run? Will it run to the extent that the school, um, school schedule would have run? Or is this going to go on as long as we are in the pandemic situation?
So every day I feel it changes a little bit. And so what we thought we were only going to be able to, to run in this specific capacity that we are currently running was going to be June 5th. However, we received great word, uh, uh, yesterday, actually, um, Wednesday of this week that we can extend this program and service through the end of June. So as of right now, our plan is to offer. This food distribution in a similar way that we're offering today. Um, till the end of June, we may need to change up our locations a little bit, not, you know, once summer begins. And if you know, other organizations that we're working with start to reopen their parking lot as accessible as possible.So we might need to adjust. Some of our sites, but we certainly will be present in the community through June 30th and potentially beyond our, our goal. Um, we do, like I said, serve meals year round. And so in the summertime we do serve meals, um, already and have planned to do so. It just may look a little bit different. Um, come July onwards then what, how we're doing it today. But we will be present in the community providing meals throughout the course of the summer.
That's fantastic. So Nicole, how can listeners gain more information on how to access food at host sites? Um, how can they donate towards this program or even volunteer towards this effort?
Yep. So we have, um, our website is a great resource and you can go right to it at gr dot org back slash Corona virus dash community dash support dash action, or what's even more simple is we have a space where you can just go to, to text, to give. If you're looking to give and donate to this program, monetarily, you can text to give at six one six two three six, two eight one nine. Or just in general to find out more information in totality about all of our, our accessible programs, visiting our website at YMCA dot org.
Fantastic. Nicole, thank you so much for your time today. We are so grateful for the work that the YMCA is doing towards, um, affording our children food during this time. And we thank you for joining us. Today.
Thank you, Christine. Appreciate it.
Shaping Narratives a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color is brought to you in partnership with the wk Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities where children come first. Want to hear more Shaping Narratives episodes download and subscribe at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe if you get a chance, it helps us to know you're listening. Shaping Narratives is produced by WGVU PBS and NPR in West Michigan through the facilities of the Meijer public broadcast center in the service of Grand Valley State University. Matt Gruppen processed all the audio, Joe Bielecki edits each episode, Vance Orr designed our graphics and manages our Web presence, Phil Lanes is our director of content. The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the hosts and their guests and do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU or Grand Valley State University.