Perspectives: YMCA Youth Leaders and Food Access
Sara Merz, Executive Director, Advocates for Health in Action
I’m continually inspired by and impressed with youth leaders in Wake County who are working to create sustainable systems to get food to people who need it. I had the good fortune to talk recently with a team in the YMCA, the Bank of America Student Leaders, about local work to increase access to healthy food.
A team of four rising seniors from Wake STEM Early College, Enloe High School and Green Hope High School were working to reduce food insecurity for children at Walnut Creek Elementary in SE Raleigh; 91% of the students there receive free or reduced-price meals.
Their project shows both the challenges and opportunities of systems change work, the power of volunteers in planning and leading efforts, and how our best laid plans change for the better as we undertake the work.
This team spent eight weeks on the project, including a week in Washington, D.C. Like many complex projects to create long-term systems change, the path to the goal shifted from the initial idea – and the plan looks more sustainable now. Initially the team envisioned starting a food pantry at the school. They worked with two school counselors and a social worker, and learned the school couldn’t secure the space for the pantry on the timeline they desired. So, the youth adapted their plan.
They are setting up a way for parents and students to get fruits and vegetables, farmers-market style, with the local food bank making monthly deliveries. They also have taken steps to advance the pantry plan and support it when it opens. These activities include ordering supplies, creating a year-long volunteer scheduling calendar to support sustainability, committing to continue to volunteer, and making presentations at their own schools to bring in more volunteers. Having a strong base of volunteers is critical to much of the food access work, whether it’s a food pantry, community garden, or soup kitchen.
Once the pantry itself is up and running, it will start with nonperishables, and the farmers-market style fruits and veggies will still be available. Eventually the pantry will include a refrigerator so that the pantry can distribute fresh food, too.
Many of you know that the YMCA of the Triangle serves as AHA’s fiscal agent, a funder, and also generously provides office space to AHA. While we operate independently with our own Board of Directors, we also partner closely as we are able. Huge thanks to those young leaders for their work to increase healthy food access for children in need in our community.