YMCA of Greater Boston was founded in 1851 as the first American chapter of YMCA. For over 170 years, they have been committed to solving Greater Boston’s social issues by strengthening the community’s physical, mental, and spiritual health.
And as food bankers, we know that at the core of a healthy body and mind is access to nutritious, whole food.
When the pandemic hit Boston full force in March 2020 and food insecurity soared, it was a unique collaboration, with imagination, capacity, shared values, and shared resources, between two Greater Boston entities that kept this city nourished.
On March 16, 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown hit Boston full force with a hunger crisis unlike ever seen before in tow.
Lockdowns began all over the city, schools were closed, and businesses were failing. Work was scarce, and food insecurity, always an issue in the best of times, spiraled into crisis proportions. Going to the supermarket, even leaving the house, became a fraught decision for many city residents. The Boston YMCA branches, that beloved oasis of urban activity, shuttered. No gyms. No pools. No programs for Seniors. No “Swim, Gym, and Camp.”
But as the needs of the community became more apparent, the YMCA did not hesitate. The organization instantly pivoted into action and boldly broadened its mission. Within the first week of the pandemic, the YMCA of Greater Boston stepped up to become the emergency food distribution center for hundreds of local children and families.
The Y’s pivot to serving the hungry was breathed into life by a crucial partnership with The Greater Boston Food Bank, supported by the City of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, local foundations, and businesses –– and an ever-growing network of people who simply wanted to help.
The week before the shutdown, the YMCA team was already anticipating the problems to come. Proactively, they had invited The Greater Boston Food Bank to meet and tour their 13 YMCA locations.
Wendy Zinn, Chief Social Responsibility Officer at the Boston YMCA, recalls thinking, “Maybe we’d find a way to work together using the YMCA’s buildings and The Greater Boston Food Bank’s food resources? Maybe they would collaborate on a series of pop-up markets at YMCA city sites?”
“When we met, we realized both organizations had the same objective: To provide food to Greater Boston residents in need,” Zinn recalls. “For the YMCA, partnering with GBFB had the potential to become a beautiful and important long-term relationship that could be built in the future.,” she thought at the time.
Then, overnight – it became critical to meeting the need, and by the following week, the program was up and running.