• 63°

YMCA receives grant for meal program

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

The YMCA of Chilton County has been awarded $45,000 in grant funding to combat food insecurity.

YMCA of Chilton County CEO Lori Patterson applied for the funding through Walmart, YMCA USA and the United States Department of Agriculture. The YMCA of Chilton County was the only site to receive this grant. The funds will cover a kitchen remodel, van for transporting food and money to purchase food with.

The program is being called Lunch Box Rocks.

The first meals of the Lunch Box Rocks program were served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 100 Thompson Avenue in September.

“It’s going really good,” Patterson said.

Patterson applied for funding for the program after studying the need for children in the county to have access to nutritious food.

“Our county is categorized as food insecure,” Patterson said in a presentation to the Clanton Kiwanis Club. “Food insecurity is basically defined as someone having anxiety about where the money for food is going to come from. Seventy percent of our student population is on free and reduced lunch.”

However, this food insecurity has not led to starvation but obesity.

“What I found out as I started reading USDA research and government research and different things they put out is, … most of our students get the majority of their nutrition between 8 (a.m.) and 3 (p.m.),” Patterson said. “Outside of the school day, the majority of their calories have no nutritional value. They are eating chips, drinking soda and eating candy.”

She visited programs that were tackling this issue in other areas. From these visits, Patterson developed a plan with multiple phases to include upgrading the YMCA kitchen to commercial grade, creating a free Saturday lunch and expanding to multiple locations and finally creating a free dinner program and expanding to multiple locations.

The end goal is to serve lunch at three locations every Saturday and serve dinner at three locations every night of the week.

After the children eat, volunteers spend time playing games with them.

“The whole draw for the children is to have fun,” Patterson said.

She said so far the participants have enjoyed having the volunteers undivided attention as they play whatever the child wants.

Patterson anticipates having a consistent 50 people at the first site before expanding to a second location. There have been 20-49 served each week so far at the inaugural site.

“Statistically, good nutrition is linked to better behavior and higher intelligence,” Patterson said. “We track our data, as long as we are giving nutritious calories over time we should see an increase in some of the data we initially started with (and) a decrease in some of the negative data such as behavior.”

The meals will have a fruit, vegetable, a lean meat, whole wheat grain and dairy. The sugar and fat must also be limited in the meal. Meals cannot be fried.

YMCA staff members are present each Saturday, but volunteers are also needed.

Those interested can contact the YMCA at 205-755-2382.

As the program progresses, the YMCA will be eligible for monetary reimbursement by the USDA for qualifying meals.

YMCA personnel attended training to receive approval as a Child and Adult Care and Nutrition Sponsor, which qualifies them to receive reimbursement for the meal that meet the nutrition guidelines. The goal is for these funds to make the program pay for itself.

The commercial kitchen upgrade should be complete by Jan. 1, 2020.