YMCA hands out millionth meal during pandemic

On Thursday, the YMCA of Metro Atlanta passed out their one millionth meal since March 2020 at the East Lake Family YMCA. The YMCA of Metro Atlanta distributes food at several locations nearly every week.

Credit: Mike Rieman

Combined ShapeCaption
On Thursday, the YMCA of Metro Atlanta passed out their one millionth meal since March 2020 at the East Lake Family YMCA. The YMCA of Metro Atlanta distributes food at several locations nearly every week.

Credit: Mike Rieman

Retired contractor Willie Berry visits the East Lake YMCA three times a week. He usually attends classes, but on Thursday he was picking up groceries.

“It blesses me in a lot of ways,” Berry said as he picked up food for himself.

He sometimes picks up for a neighbor too.

“You know, when I get blessed, like this, I try to bless somebody else,” he said.

On Thursday, the YMCA of Metro Atlanta passed out their millionth meal since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 24,000 meals have been distributed at the East Lake YMCA location, including the 150 handed out to Berry and others. Meals mainly go to seniors and single-parent households.

During the pandemic, the YMCA has been instrumental in making sure families have their basic needs met, said Allison Toller, chief social impact officer for YMCA Metro Atlanta.

“There are still tremendous needs when it comes to resources. Rent prices have gone up, so that takes those resources away from what you would need to spend on food,” Toller said.

The YMCA hand out bags of groceries that can be used to create at least three healthy meals, Toller added.

“I always try to do a full-course meal for them. Some type of vegetable, some type of meat, dessert is always good. If we have kids, we try to get snacks or easy pack items for them to take to school if needed,” said Dedra Ridges, director of healthy connections at the East Lake YMCA.

The bags of food have helped people like Rose Hill, a retired cook who has been visiting the YMCA to pick up food for over a year. Hill says she is fortunate that the YMCA has been there to help.

“I don’t get food stamps, so it makes a difference,” Hill said.

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Vivian Moore, a volunteer with the East Lake Family YMCA, prepares to pass out food to visitors. The bags contained several items such as canned goods, eggs and cereal.

Credit: Mike Rieman

Vivian Moore, a volunteer with the East Lake Family YMCA, prepares to pass out food to visitors. The bags contained several items such as canned goods, eggs and cereal.

Credit: Mike Rieman

Combined ShapeCaption
Vivian Moore, a volunteer with the East Lake Family YMCA, prepares to pass out food to visitors. The bags contained several items such as canned goods, eggs and cereal.

Credit: Mike Rieman

Credit: Mike Rieman

Harold Hunter, a deacon, was collecting food Thursday for his church, Greater Fellowship Baptist in Decatur.

The church takes the food from the YMCA and serves members of the church and others around the community. The church separates the items so people can pick up only what they want, Hunter said.

“They appreciate the giving,” Hunter said.

As the pandemic heightened, the YMCA continued its partnership with several organizations, including the Atlanta Community Food Bank, to make sure they had enough food.

Food insecurity in the metro-Atlanta area grew to be a major concern at the height of the pandemic. Though the economy is doing better now than at the height of the pandemic, there are still a great number of families who are food insecure, Kyle Waide, the president and CEO of Atlanta Community Food Bank said.

“We were still, and are still today, distributing more food than we did pre-COVID,” Waide said.

As of January, one in eight people in the 29-county service area of the food bank are food insecure, Waide added. The problem could get worse. As inflation and gas prices continue to increase, the worry for rising food insecurity levels causes concern.

“Given the inflationary pressures,” Waide said, “we think we won’t go back to where we were at the height of COVID, but we think demand will, will increase moderately from where we are today.”