BILLINGS — Staff at the Billings YMCA were on track to hand out 150 free meals to kids 18-years-old and under in the second week of the weekend food program Saturday.
“We gave 78 out last week and this week we prepped 150. As of right now, we’re at about 60 meals and we’re just going to keep serving them through the weekend," said Melissa Graves, YMCA volunteer coordinator and director of the meal program.
Now in its second week, the program expanded to offer more meals to kids. Graves said the program was started with the help of $50,000 in grant money from Montana No Kid Hungry, Albertsons Nourishing Neighbors and the Summer Food Service Program operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
First-time meal recipient and four-year staff member at the YMCA, Lauren Houston said the meals are a big help for her and her daughter.
“I think that it’s really important to help people in our community and the YMCA is constantly trying to find ways to reach out to our community and strengthen it in different ways. I think that this is just a really nice thing that helps kind of bring out community together and helps feed hungry bellies for people that might not be able to afford it, especially in these hard times," Houston said.
Anyone can stop by the Billings YMCA at 402 N. 32nd St. on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. to pick up a meal. Graves said the meals are given out on a first-come first-served basis.
"It’s free to the public. Anybody can come in, they don’t have to be a member of the YMCA. They just have to have kids 18 (years old) and under to qualify. We will run this program indefinitely. As long as we see the need for it and have the funding to make it happen," Graves said.
If there are leftover meals on Sunday, staff will continue to distribute them to people that walk in. Keep an eye on the Billings Family YMCA Facebook page to see if there are leftover meals from week to week.
And the meals aren't light, the paper bag is stacked to the brim with two meals, lunch and dinner, for the kids and staff will try to switch it up from week to week.
“They’ll switch up a little bit. They’ll always have the five components: dairy, protein, watchable, fruit and grain. The meals will always try to be healthy. This week, we have a turkey and cheese sandwich, Goldfish crackers, snap peas, orange, two milks, cereal and a banana. Each meal is full," Graves said.
At the end of the weekend if there are still leftover meals, YMCA staff will donate them to Tumbleweed, the Billings nonprofit that serves homeless youths in the community.