YMCA students, members unite to fight homelessness and food insecurity

Students from the YMCA’s BASE program are pictured with the donations they collected on behalf of local organizations. Pictured with the students (left to right) are Claudia Aust of the YMCA, Ruby Abouraya of Safe Harbor of Chester County, Kecia Crowl of Kennett Area Community Service, Rachel Thomas Steadman of Bridge of Hope, Chaleena Boggs of Safe Harbor of Chester County, Patrice Stilley of Meals on Wheels of Chester County, Laura Mackiewicz of the YMCA and Bertram L. Lawson, II of the YMCA.

WEST CHESTER – For many, the holiday season is a time for sharing meals, gifts and quality time with family and friends. At the YMCA of Greater Brandywine, it is also a time to share with neighbors in need.

“It can be stressful for many families to navigate the cost of living amidst the festivities at this time of year,” explains Laura Mackiewicz, Director of Volunteer Engagement for the YMCA of Greater Brandywine. “At the Y, we want to be part of the solution, enabling our community to come together in acts of giving this season.”

YMCA Members are uniting across the association as sponsors for the Thanksgiving Baskets and Holiday Angels programs, which provide meal kits or holiday gifts to more than 1,700 children and their families. In addition, youth enrolled in the YMCA’s Before and After School Enrichment (BASE) programs collected shelf stable foods to support community members experiencing hunger and homelessness in Chester County.

Nationally, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week took place from Nov 11 – 18, aiming to raise awareness and inspire action. It is fitting that this week happens just before the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when the stress of food and financial insecurity is exacerbated.

As an opportunity for education and action, the YMCA partnered with local agencies to educate the 930 students enrolled in their BASE program. Earlier this month, representatives from community agencies across Chester County visited BASE program sites to help students understand the factors behind food and housing insecurity and how their agencies provide support.

“We’re excited to partner with other community organizations to teach our students,” comments Claudia Aust, Senior Director of Before and After School Enrichment (BASE) for the Y. “It gives our students an opportunity to learn, to volunteer and to connect to their community.”

YMCA students collected over 1,000 pounds of self-stable food that will be distributed by local agencies, including Chester County Food Bank, Safe Harbor, Meals on Wheels of Chester County, Octorara Food Pantry, Bridge of Hope and Kennett Area Community Service. Agency representatives returned to the Y last week to collect the donations.

“We are thrilled to partner with the YMCA of Greater Brandywine students,” said Ruby Abouraya, Development Director at Safe Harbor. “Combining education with action takes away the stigma associated with individuals who may be experiencing food or housing insecurity. Every one of our clients is a neighbor – perhaps a father, a sister or a grandmother. We are all a part of the same community.”

Members of the community who want to get into the spirit of giving are invited to sponsor a child who otherwise may not receive holiday gifts. Those able to sponsor a child can visit one of seven YMCA branches in Chester County by Dec 1 to select a wish list. Items purchased from the wish list must be returned to the YMCA by Dec 4.

There are other ways to contribute to the YMCA’s Holiday Angels program. The YMCA is looking for donors to sign up as on-call sponsors or to donate gift cards to retailers such as Amazon, Target and Walmart. This helps the YMCA provide support to families who are on a waitlist for the Holiday Angels program. The YMCA will also accept donations of wrapping paper and tape at seven branch locations, through Dec 4 – and is looking for volunteers to sign up to help distribute donated gifts.

“There’s no better time to get involved at the YMCA,” continues Mackiewicz. “I hope that many will choose to celebrate the season of giving by sharing with a neighbor. You won’t regret it.”

To view a video recap of the BASE donor drive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwD9QRJL7Vc

 To learn about Thanksgiving Baskets and Holiday Angels:  https://ymcagbw.org/holiday-support

To learn about volunteering at the Y: https://ymcagbw.org/give/volunteer

To learn about Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week: https://hhweek.org/

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