On Monday, March 16, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health took significant steps to keep the public safe as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads. The County Health Department ordered the closure of all bars, nightclubs, restaurants (except takeout/delivery), entertainment venues, gyms, work-out facilities and other establishments through March 31, 2020.
As a result of this action, The YMCA of Greater Whittier suspended its healthy lifestyle activities including the gym and pools. As you might guess, the Branch administrative offices remain open to address all business-related matters, but that is not the only thing that remains open. Although the buildings are quieter, they are a hive of support for families with children in our area.
Most of the school districts in our area have closed for at least 14 days, but the Y’s all-day School-Age Enrichment and two preschool sites remain open. Although spots are prioritized for first-responder and healthcare workers’ families, there is plenty of room for more children. From 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., children are nurtured by professional staff who have had expansive background checks and are pursuing or have completed child development or early childhood education programs. Children are provided nutritious meals and snacks and encouraged to grow stronger in mind, body and spirit. Some of the teachers have been with the Enrichment program for 5 or more years, and they stay because they just love the kids, their team, and of course, the members!
In addition to servicing children through their care program, The Y has been certified as a Federal Food Program provider since March 2018, and is using that to expand its support for children who may have no relationship to the Y. Since Monday, the Y has been serving breakfast and lunch to any child from 0-18, who visits either their Uptown or East Whittier Branch Facilities. Since Tuesday, after requesting an emergency waiver, they began offering a grab-and-go option for families and continue to see increasing need each day. This is a critical support for our neighbors as approximately 1 in 3 households in our area qualifies as food insecure, and the rate at which food insecurity affects families of color is elevated. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health, food insecurity during childhood can lead to delayed development, diminished academic performance, impaired social skills, and early onset of obesity.
“It is critical that children have access to fresh, healthy foods, especially during this time of uncertainty,” said Shauna Epting, Vice President of Operations at the YMCA of Greater Whittier. “Many kids and teens in our community rely on free and reduced-cost meals at school, and the Y wants to bridge that gap while schools are closed.”
Over the past 104 years of operation for the YMCA of Greater Whittier has seen some challenging times. As one of the oldest non-profits in Whittier, they depend heavily on the generosity of others to meet the delta between what they charge for memberships and programs and the actual cost of operating them. While nearly all of their revenue-generating programs are suspended, they are hoping that members who can, will continue paying their memberships even though they aren’t currently utilizing its benefits. Membership fees would help cover the cost of the required staff to continue operating and provide financial support for families who need child care but might not be able to pay. The membership fees and emergency grants currently becoming available may be just enough to ensure that the Y can continue through these times doing the things that make them so much more than a gym.