The Watertown Family YMCA has been operating food programs throughout the school year and the summer months for many years. For over 35 years, we’ve offered a snack option in our programming. 


However, about 13 years ago we started a partnership with our local school district provide breakfast and lunches as a closed program to our summer School-aged childcare (SACC) campers.  This quickly changed into an Open Feeding Site at our school sites during the summer months to offer lunches at one of our facilities, as well for sports camps, child watch children, and anyone 18 and under as an Open Feeding Site.  The school district would bring meals into our facility for lunch deliver to our off-site Soccer Camp.  Over the summer, we help feed about 450 children a day.


In addition to the summer site, we continued to operate our regular program at the and branch out into the Watertown Community hosting Recreation Programs in income-based housing areas.  Normally, the children in these housing areas don’t have access to an Open Feeding Site, recreation program or summer camp, leading to greater food insecurity. Summer is particularly hard for families as there are not a lot of food options.  Where kids would normally get two meals at school during the day, some children would not even get one complete meal during the summer months. To compound the issue, food banks tend to be depleted of their resources during the summer months due to an increased need. 

To fill those gaps in food access, we opened five recreation and feeding sites throughout Watertown to combat summer hunger in collaboration with the Community Action Planning Council (CAPC).  CAPC delivers the meals to the recreation sites, and Y staff provides activities and serve the meals. This is something we’ve continued to do for the past seven summers.


Recently, with the support of the Watertown City School District we piloted a program offering dinners at one of our afterschool sites.  The program had the school district leave the dinners for our SACC staff to heat up and serve to the kids when they come down after school.  It has been a huge success and we hope to continue to run the program over the 2019-2020 school year. Ideally, we’d like to expand the program to all our Watertown CSD sites and eventually to all of the SACC sites that we serve.  

Other programs we’ve piloted include a Backpack Program at three afterschool sites in collaboration with a local grocery store.  The grocer would provide vouchers each month for the store, supply families with menus, and a shopping list.  This gave our families the opportunity to go shop at the store to make the meals at home.  Even with its success, funding ran out and we’re currently unable to continue the program.  Fortunately, the school district now has a large backpack program helping to provide families with food each weekend.


Not only do we work to support our families and students by providing meals, but we also have our children take part in community service projects to help give back to their community individually.  Each site chooses their own projects so that they can address community-specific needs.  We believe that it helps students to learn that no matter how much a person has or doesn’t have, they can always give of their time, effort, hard work and compassion.  In response to this, we started an initiative called SACC KIDS CARE where we focus on a Developmental Asset each month and a few overall SACC comprehensive community service projects.


For a YMCA that is new to food programs, start by contacting the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and to begin the process of becoming a vendor or a sponsor for their food programs.  CACFP will help identify sponsors in their area or help the interested Y through the process of becoming their own.  If there are programs located in local schools or within other community organizations/buildings, they may find that there is already a sponsor that they can work with in order to serve meals and/or snacks to children in their programs. For instance, a Y could provide activities to engage participants during mealtimes of other programs that offer feeding programs throughout the year.

Our biggest takeaway is the necessity of collaboration and community partnerships to make food programs successful.  Start by identifying an area of work that your Y does well and then drawing the lines for collaboration with other organizations to best suit the needs of your community.  Partnerships are key! None of this work would be possible without our community-organization partners and their willingness to help us meet our “outside the box” goals!  

By Bridgette Gates,  Senior Director of Youth Development, Watertown Family YMCA.

For more information on the Watertown Y’s food programs contact Bridgette at 315.755.2005