The month of November brings the thought of blessings, the smell of pumpkins, the taste of turkey and of all the foods we know we’ll indulge (or over-indulge) in over the holiday season. But it should also bring to the forefront of our minds the very real issue of hunger in our society.
There’s a growing niche of people who face hunger every day, and not just this time of year, which may surprise you: teens.
Approximately seven million kids—or 1 in 5—in the U.S., ranging in age from 10-17 struggle with hunger. While federal programs like the National School Lunch Program offer free or discounted meals to children from low-income families, reports suggest teenagers are falling through the cracks. It seems the focus of some of these programs is often on little children because they are more easily reached.
This problem, combined with the stigma for teens to fit in, results in some resistance from teens to accept “help” from federal food programs. Because it’s more socially comfortable, more and more teens are turning to friends with well-stocked refrigerators and pantries after school. Teenagers often cope with hunger in other ways too, like getting jobs that too often simply cannot bridge the gap in the family’s food budget. Even worse, some resort to petty theft or gangs.
Enter the YMCA. The Y serves over 3,000 youth in 100 locations in the summer alone in Chattanooga. We also offer an after school at-risk meals program, which serves 1,200 students in 42 area locations. But even with these programs, the Y has hit the ground running even harder in an effort to reach teens in particular.
“We are working with schools, non-profits, churches and neighborhood groups to address reaching more teen populations,” said Bill Rush, an executive director for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga.
The Y’s partnership with high schools, non-profits and churches has opened the door to making teens more accessible to help. There are a number of lasting imprints the Y is making in the Chattanooga community. The Y’s Mobile Fit: Food and Fun program gives teens not only access to food, but also engages them in games and physical activities at the same time. The Y also recently began a partnership with Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy to become the vendor for breakfast and lunch. Finally, the Y has a dinner meal program specifically for teens in the after school enrichment program. When it’s all said and done, this year the Y will serve over 200,000 meals this year.
“Every day we are continuing to strive to reach more and more teens,” said Rush. “It’s part of our identity at the Y to create programs that strengthen our youth – and family units as a whole.”
We at the Y can be seen in action in the community year round–striving to strengthen families and provide for the whole person in mind, body and spirit. This Thanksgiving, we wish you warmest blessings with your family and friends and hope you will take the entrance of the holiday season to use your hands, feet and gifts to aid us in a stronger community. If you are interested in learning more about our food programs or volunteering, email [email protected] or [email protected]
This article was written by Cara Standifer.