Massachusetts

1 Million Meals: YMCA of Central Mass. Helps Keep Kids From Going Hungry During Pandemic

With many children in Worcester and elsewhere relying on breakfasts and lunches at schools, the YMCA of Central Massachusetts has worked to combat food insecurity

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When the coronavirus pandemic hit and schools shut down, in-person learning wasn't the only thing children were missing out on.

Many families in Massachusetts and across the nation relied on school breakfasts and lunches to keep their kids from going hungry.

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"The pandemic occurred abruptly, we had to pivot abruptly into numerous different feeding systems based on USDA waivers," said Donna Lombardi, nutritional director at Worcester Public Schools.

The YMCA of Central Massachusetts quickly realized the families they served every day may not be able to pick food up at their children's schools without buses running or classes in session.

"We saw a gap. The gap was that there were people that needed to receive meals, and we wanted to find a way to how we do that," said David Connell, president and CEO of YMCA of Central Massachusetts.

So as the Y and its partner agencies showed Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., on Tuesday, they got creative.

"I thought, 'Wow, we're paying the leasing fees on these vans, at least we could utilize them,' because we couldn't bring children anywhere," said Yvette Dyson of Worcester Common Ground, who is also on the Y's board of directors.

They removed the seats, filled the vans with food and helped feed families and children learning from home throughout Worcester.

"Kids who go to school who are hungry can't learn," McGovern said. "That breakfast or that lunch is every bit as important to that child's ability to learn as a textbook."

And now, a year later, the group has delivered its millionth meal — bridging the gap, despite the obstacles the pandemic presented, to make sure no child goes hungry.

"Very grateful that a community comes out and actually helps out and gives people food," said Worcester parent Chrissy Auger.

"It's good, it's helpful, especially with this situation going on," said Christina Santiago, another parent in the city.

As chair of the Rules Committee, McGovern says it will begin a yearlong effort Wednesday to develop a road map to end hunger.

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