For more information about the YMCA's summer feeding program and locations go to www.ymcachattanooga.org/summer-feeding or call 423-877-3517.
Some children in Chattanooga struggle to get food. The YMCA teamed up with the USDA's summer food service program to help.
Since 2010, the YMCA has operated seven sites where children who qualify for free and reduced lunch at school can be sure of getting a midday meal after schools recess for the summer.
That first year, only 6 percent of the 22,000 qualifying children participated in the programs. But in the past four years, participation increased to more than 36 percent of the children, and the Y opened more than 60 feeding sites. Some also offer breakfast. The latest feeding site, Cedar Hill Head Start off Rossville Boulevard, opens today.
"It was like a weight lifted off our shoulders," said Cantus Griffin about the Y's summer feeding program.
For more than a decade, Griffin's Renaissance Presbyterian Church has collected donations from individuals and corporations to feed people in the Westside community who come to the church for food.
Sometimes 10 families came in one week; sometimes the church had nothing to give, said Griffin. But this year, the YMCA made the church a summer feeding location. And some 35 to 40 children a day participating in the Renaissance Church summer camp eat the free meals.
Some children have told her that they have no food at home, said Griffin, who helps operate the camp.
Summer feeding sites are also at city-operated youth and family development centers, at several parks, at some public housing sites and in communities where refugees have settled.
"Every summer so far we have gotten calls from a community that has learned about it [summer feeding] or we have learned of a need," said Bill Rush, the YMCA's project manager.
The YMCA shares President Barack Obama's goal to end childhood hunger in America by 2015, said Rush.
And the Y doesn't just give food. It has supplemental grants and fundraisers to provide staff who go to some sites, talk about healthy food choices with children and engage them in physical activity for 30 minutes.
The Y wants sites in areas of greatest need, where most children qualify for free lunch and where there is no other programming.
Rush said the Y took on the summer feeding program because of the need, but it's not a project the organization wants to pursue alone. Churches, community organizations, other nonprofits can get involved, he said.
"We would like for more people to do this instead of us," said Rush. "We don't have the desire to do the whole county."
Some Renaissance Camp children who eat the free lunch said last week they appreciate the free meals but they wish there were more foods that they liked to eat.
The Y's menu rotates every two weeks and includes foods like chicken salad, summer salad with mandarin oranges and veggie chips.
"I know they want us to be healthy," said 14-year-old Antwain Monfort. "But we want Doritos and a Coke."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.