Youthprise Nutrition Program Hits 2 Million Meals Served
Celebrating our 2 millionth meal with Banayan Communities, long time nutrition program partner
Youthprise Nutrition Program Hits 2 Million Meals Served
During the recent times of uncertainty, there’s one thing that has remained constant for many families throughout the Twin Cities and beyond – it’s that Youthprise has been there for them.
Since the onset of the global pandemic, Youthprise has been at the forefront of huge efforts that include helping families get laptops to boost distance learning, lobbying to get the state to grant unemployment benefits for high school students, and ensuring youth have healthy and nutritious meals.
This week Youthprise hit a second major milestone in less than a year, its 2,000,000th meal provided. It took Youthprise five years to get to 1,000,000 meals and only 6 months during the pandemic and impacts of the fight for racial equity to reach 2,000,000 meals served!
The nonprofit organization, founded by the McKnight Foundation, has provided surpassed all projected growth hitting 1 million meals three years earlier than projected and an unprecedented need leading to 2 million meals only 8 months after.
“This summer we served more than 300,000 meals at 20 to 40 locations,” said Christa DeBoer, Youthprise’s Nutrition Program Director. “By contrast, last year we served 120,000 meals in 62 locations during the summer months.”
The Youthprise food program serves Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Washington, and Dakota Counties and expanded into Northfield and Faribault, with prospects in the western edges of the state.
Though the need is greater than ever, finding ways to serve the community has been challenging due to COVID-19. Those providing the essential services needed to keep themselves safe while following physical distancing requirements. They also had to remain flexible in their planning and work due to daily changes that came with navigating the pandemic and its risks.
The Nutrition team knew it could figure out a system that would allow them to do what they do best – serve young people. The team sought waivers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allowed them to provide prepackaged meals that could be picked up curbside. The locations for the meal service have included libraries, community centers, recreation centers, charter schools and other sites that serve youth.
The way it currently works is there is one distribution day per site. Each student gets a package of food items that includes enough for two meals a day for a week. Families can get enough food to provide for each child in the household. With the health and safety concerns still a factor, there’s still a ways to go before families can pick up food and eat on-site.
“We’re not sure if all the spaces will eventually reopen and allow us to serve meals as they have in past years, but we see glimpses of what was normal” DeBoer said.
The Conway Community Center operated by The Sanneh Foundation on the East Side of St. Paul is one site that partners with Youthprise. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Conway has seen a huge increase in the number of families it has served, according to Ofir Germanic, Director of the Conway Community Center.
“Providing meals is an essential part of what we do,” said Germanic. “Every kid and every family around us knows that we are a place they can come to eat.”
Initially, Germanic said he panicked and wondered how they would meet the needs of the families, but he knew Youthprise would come through to help.
“We had been partnering with Youthprise for the past five years and they responded really quickly, but didn’t have the right waiver from the USDA,” said Germanic. “They helped me find a partner that came the next day.”
The Conway Community Center serves approximately 650 meals each week. Some days they run out of food because the need is so great. In 2019, they served 38,000 meals and in the last 10 weeks alone the organization has far exceeded that number. Through it all, Youthprise has been a key partner.
“Youthprise is working with me differently as needed and they are good about tailoring their work to fit our needs,” said Germanic. “We choose to be with Youthprise because of their creativity and ability to understand the needs of the community. “
Maurice Nins, the Grants and Compliance Officer for Youthprise, said that the organization is unique as one of the few community-based nutrition hubs in the state. “We fill in the gaps between small nonprofits and school districts,” he said. “Both can struggle in meeting the food needs in their community, Youthprise fills that gap.”
“I’m proud of this and the work we do,” said Nins, adding that he’s heard from partners who have praised the organization for its commitment and providing the much-needed service at a level that is working well.
Going forward, Nins would like to see Youthprise continue its work with partners while finding new ways to distribute meals. Having another way to provide meals would mean the organization could pivot a lot faster, Nins said. Some of the ideas that have been considered include securing a food truck or developing its own food site that would allow the organization to be more responsive when needs are urgent.
Still, until that day arrives, Youthprise is making other improvements that include communicating more clearly where food is available, especially since the locations and number of sites have changed this year.
“We’ve always had to deal with the stigma that’s attached to federal meal programs, but we want people to know they don’t have to tell us who they are or why they need help. And while that’s always been our intent to help remove stigmas, we’re doing a better job,” said DeBoer.
Additionally, the organization is acting as a clearinghouse to help their partners find other resources.
“For example, sometimes it’s connecting those seeking donations with grocery stores or getting food from a site across town to meet the need at another location,” said DeBoer. “It could be finding social services or community resources for families.”