YMCA works to feed kids over holidays

YMVA CEO Eric Abts and Kara Viorel, senior development director, hold boxes of food that will be given to young people as part of their Meals on the Go program the organization launched to feed kids over Christmas break.

HANNIBAL — School kids will have access to food over the Christmas holiday thanks to a new program at the YMCA of Hannibal.

The YMCA, one of the agencies that will benefit from the United Way of the Mark Twain’s Area’s Be A Hero campaign, which helps people overcome barriers.

Most recently, this included establishing Meals on the Go, a program designed to ensure that students will have access to food over the Christmas holiday, while school lunch programs are shut down.

On Saturday, families that have signed up for the program will be stopping by the YMCA and picking up a box containing 14 meals for each child enrolled in the program.

Normally, students are able to receive free breakfasts and lunches at school. For families that rely upon free breakfast and lunch at school to feed their kids, the Christmas holiday break can be troubling. Therefore, the YMCA came up with a solution.

“While the kids are home, we want to make sure they are still fed,” said Kara Viorel, the senior development director at the Hannibal YMCA. “When we saw this opportunity, we wanted to see how we could help.”

The YMCA had a goal of providing meals for 100 children. As of the Dec. 15 signup deadline, more than 190 children enrolled in the program to receive free meals.

At the YMCA, stepping in and helping provide solutions when times are tough is an area where the organization thrives, Viorel said.

Though it seems like a distant memory, the Mississippi River nearly topped its levees in the spring of 2019 and had crests that neared historical highs. This led to flooding in areas where there was not levee protection and some individuals’ homes were flooded, leaving families without a place to stay.

The Hannibal YMCA opened its doors to be an emergency shelter once again providing a solution.

However, as hard as the 2019 flooding was in Northeast Missouri, the year of 2020 has forced even more scrambling for solutions.

In March, when Missouri Gov. Mike Parson issued an emergency order to close non-essential businesses due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus, the YMCA closed its doors to those who frequented the pool, fitness center, weight room and exercise classes.

However, the organization stepped up to ensure essential workers in the community had affordable and safe child care available while schools were closed.

During the shutdown, the organization also stepped up and established the program Helping Hands which coordinated the donation of homemade masks, bleach, hand sanitizer and more to assist health care professionals.

Viorel said there is a larger theme with the YMCA of Hannibal filling the gaps for individuals in the community.

After school students can grab a to-go meal from the Y Café, which was recently opened. Students do not have to be members of the YMCA to get a meal. They just have to show up to the YMCA. On Saturdays, the meals are available for pickup for anyone age 18 and under.

Viorel said the organization stives to break down barriers so individuals in the community can experience all the offerings of the YMCA.

Two years ago, the YMCA of Hannibal revamped its scholarship program giving more those for whom finances were a barrier, the opportunity to experience what the YMCA offers.

“The scholarship program allows us to not turn anyone away with the inability to pay,” Viorel said. “Dollars from United Way are crucial to help the scholarship program be in place.”

People who want to see if their membership to the YMCA could be supplemented with scholarship dollars may visit the YMCA’s website or come to the organization’s Welcome Center to request a scholarship application.

“Sometimes a family’s incomes might be OK, but there might be a situation making it hard to pay,” Viorel said. “If families have a specific situation that is impacting a family’s ability to pay for a membership we encourage them to share this with the staff at the YMCA to see if they can step in to help.”

Forrest Gossett, chairman of the United Way of the Mark Twain Area 2020-21 Be A Hero campaign, said the YMCA’s focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility is vital for Northeast Missouri.

“By breaking down barriers individuals in the community face, the organization is living out its mission and vision,” said Gossett, who is editor of the Salt River Journal. “At United Way, we are proud to support the work of the organization as they are continuing to implement new programs that are truly making a difference for people in the community.”

The United Way of the Mark Twain Area will financially support the efforts of the YMCA from the 2020-21 Be a Hero Campaign. To give to the United Way Campaign mail payment to PO Box 81 Hannibal, Mo, text the word ‘UWMTA’ to 26989 for a prompt to give, or give online at http://unitedwaymta.org.

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