YMCA & HMG Address Childhood Food Insecurity

Good nutrition is so important for all of us. But it’s really a critical need for our children’s health and development,” says Dr. Cheryl Stanski, Vice President of Holston Medical Group. “Kids who have food insecurity—which means they don’t get enough healthy food to eat—have a harder time growing and staying well.”

WJHL video interview - Dr. Cheryl StanskiWJHL Interview: Dr. Cheryl Stanski

That’s one reason Dr. Stanski volunteers with the YMCA Feeding Program. “As healthcare providers, it’s our responsibility to help address such health issues in the community,” she explains.

Kimberly “KC” Cousineau, President & CEO of the Greater Kingsport Family YMCA, feels exactly the same way. She knows how vital children’s meals are to the Kingsport community. “When we started looking at what our community needs, food security for kids was one thing that came to the top of the list,” she says. The USDA reports that food insecurity affects 1 in 7 children in the U.S.; in Greater Kingsport, it’s nearly 1 in 4. Working together, KC and Dr. Stanski believe the YMCA Feeding Program and its partners can make a positive impact on kids and their families.

Supporting Healthy, Happy Kids

Kids who don’t get enough healthy food are more likely to:

  • Be sick more often
  • Do poorly in school
  • Show social and behavior problems
  • Suffer development trouble

That’s why the YMCA Feeding Program wants to tackle the problem. It’s also why HMG has joined the fight. HMG’s Mission into Motion campaign finds HMG staff members willing to volunteer at local nonprofits. Now, HMG support and volunteers are here through it all for the Feeding Program, helping to produce nearly 500 meals for children at 15 locations each weekday.

Food for All food truck

“We talked about kids’ food issues before COVID, but the pandemic made the problem even worse. It has been truly magical to watch as funding and resources and people have stepped forward to help us turn a dream into reality. We built a kitchen, and we now serve dinner to nearly 500 kids every day,” KC says.

“It’s amazing to see these kids’ faces,” Dr. Stanski adds. “Sometimes you get so caught up in your day-to-day, just getting your job done. It’s nice to step back and participate. These kids are so excited and enthusiastic. It’s really rewarding.”

How the YMCA Feeding Program Works

The Feeding Program gives children in the Y’s Afterschool and “Y On Wheels” locations a healthy meal they can count on Monday–Friday, year-round.

volunteers cooking

It started with a grant from Y-USA. The program also received funding from East Tennessee Foundation for the kitchen and other areas used to create the meals. The food is provided by a USDA grant. But the Y relies on the community and on partners like HMG for needed supplies, volunteers, transport vehicles, food containers, and more.

Feeding 450 kids who often don’t know where their next meal will come from is a huge task. Still, the YMCA of Greater Kingsport has taken brown bag meals to a new level.

What’s in the bag varies each day to make sure that kids ages 3-15 receive the nutrition they need while also keeping food fun! Each meal meets the USDA’s 5-component plan:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Meats/Meat alternates
  • Grains
  • Milk/Yogurt/Cheese

“The lunches have everything that makes a balanced meal, but they also take care to add things kids actually enjoy,” Dr. Stanski says. “It’s so great to hear kids say how much they love tomatoes!”

How You Can Help

Volunteers are always welcome at the Feeding Program to help serve these hungry children. Donations, partnerships, and sponsorships are also encouraged. Visit the Community Service page on the YMCA’s website if you’d like to get involved.

volunteer making sandwiches

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of what we do. Their service and monetary help can bridge the gap in our resources to better serve our community,” says KC, who grew up around the corner from a YMCA and has worked for the human services organization for nearly 30 years.

“With food and fuel prices these days, we absolutely could not move forward and expand the program without community partners like HMG,” she adds. “Their volunteer service and funding is critical for us to be able to keep doing what we’re doing and grow the program for the future.”

The Y will be opening a new location called “Brighter Horizons” in Rogersville to serve Hawkins County. This location will house a kitchen that will serve 10 outreach locations in the county and provide nearly 250 meals a day. It will also allow the Y to expand the Kingsport kitchen to serve more sites throughout Sullivan County, supplying nearly 800 meals daily.

child lunch tray

The new Rogersville Brighter Horizons will host a ribbon cutting ceremony on August 4th from 5:00-7:00pm. “We welcome the Hawkins County community to come look at the great space we have created and to get involved,” KC said. “We are always in need of volunteers to help with our feeding program.”

Dr. Stanski applauds the growth of the program.

“As the community’s health partner for life, HMG strongly believes that care must extend beyond the walls of our offices. Our partnership with the YMCA Feeding Program is a perfect example of putting our Mission into Motion. Together, we can help kids get the good, healthy food they need to grow and thrive.”

Cheryl Stanski, MD, FACS, is a general surgeon in Holston Medical Group’s Kingsport, TN office. She specializes in breast surgery.