Winter break can be a hungry time for children who rely on free and reduced-price school lunches.
That’s why three Twin Cities nonprofits have joined forces to give away 7,500 meal bags that families can pick up at YMCA branches.
“We are opening our doors to anyone in the community who wants to stop by for a bag of food — no questions asked,” said Greg Waibel, chief operating officer of The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities.
The Sheridan Story, a Roseville nonprofit that works with schools to distribute take-home meals to needy kids, put together the nutritious bags. The YMCA has agreed to distribute them at its more than two dozen locations, and the John W. Mooty Foundation paid for the food and suggested the collaboration.
The YMCA and The Sheridan Story “have people with big hearts,” said Bruce Mooty, YMCA board chairman and Mooty Foundation trustee. “And they work hard to be good stewards of the money they receive.”
Mooty said he and his brothers, who oversee the foundation started by their father, wanted to help families struggling during the holidays.
“The holidays are a wonderful time to get together and celebrate each other,” he said. “I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for families who don’t have the opportunity to gather around a meal at this time.”
The bags each contain ingredients and a recipe to make four servings of creamy chicken and green pasta and a side dish of pears. The meals are available until Jan. 6 or until the supply runs out.
The YMCA, long known for its fitness focus and youth development programs, has turned its attention to food in recent years with new nutrition standards for the more than 800,000 meals and snacks they serve each year and new healthy living kitchens at some of its branches. This Christmastime collaboration is part of that effort.
“The YMCA is committed to working with community partners to address the more than 200,000 children in Minnesota who live with food insecurity by providing education, access and support,” said YMCA president and CEO Glen Gunderson, in a statement.
Rob Williams, The Sheridan Story’s executive director, said he jumped at the opportunity to work with the Y in their shared mission of supporting kids and families.
“Many children don’t look forward to winter break because they don’t have enough food at home,” Williams said.
The Sheridan Story was started in 2010 by Mill City Church, which meets at Sheridan Elementary in northeast Minneapolis, and its partner Woodridge Church in Long Lake.
School staff noticed children taking extra food during Friday lunch and stashing it in their backpacks for the weekend. So they turned to Mill City Church members for help. What started with sending home weekend food bags for 27 kindergartners has grown to helping 6,100 schoolchildren at about 200 schools.
Williams, who used to worked in logistics for a Fortune 500 company, said he’s taken that skill set and transferred it to his charity work. He called The Sheridan Story a “logistics nonprofit.”
“There is plenty of food, but it’s not in the hands and homes of all the kids and families that need it,” Williams said. “The trick over the holiday breaks is: Where do you find the kids?”
That’s where the partnership with the Y comes in, because so many families have connections to the organization.
The Sheridan Story is funded by financial donations and receives no government money. It buys most of the food it distributes, including ingredients for the holiday meal bags. Williams said that ensures good quality and allows families to retain a sense of dignity.
“We don’t want families to feel like they are getting the leftovers,” he said.