BILLINGS — Food insecurity continues to be one of the biggest problems facing American families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers are worse on weekends, with no school meals provided, which is what made the Billings Family YMCA’s new Saturday free meal program such a success in its trial run last week.
“We were thinking 30-40 meals to start with, and ultimately our team gave out 78 meals that first day," said YMCA CEO Kim Kaiser. "I know our team was frantic - whatever food we had in the building for our after-school program for the following week, we used.”
“It was great," said program volunteer Faye Point. "One little boy walked out with his lunch and shouted, ‘I’ve got lunch!’ It gives you goosebumps to see the need and to be able to meet that need.”
The YMCA already provides over 1,000 after-school meals each week around the community, and with many weekend programs shut down due to COVID restrictions, they partnered with No Kid Hungry and Albertson’s Nourishing Neighbors to start the Saturday program. After last Saturday's showing, the giveaway is already expanding.
“We’ve upped that to 150 (meal bags) this week - we’ll see how quickly that goes," Kaiser said. "We’ve also added in the breakfast component, so we have a three-component breakfast as well as a five-component dinner included in one bag per person. Anyone 18 and under can access this program for free.”
Meals can be picked up starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at both the front and back entrances to the YMCA, downtown at 402 N. 32nd St. The pickups are scheduled to run until 12 p.m. but could run out sooner.
The YMCA says they will continue the program as long as their grant funding allows. Additional funding has been available through the Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded, state-administered program the YMCA has been a part of for years. That program has been extended to include the school year during the pandemic.