Y More Vital Than Ever During COVID-19 Crisis

meal packing

Asheville, N.C., March 31, 2020 – Like many YMCAs across the nation, the YMCA of Western North Carolina has shifted operations to support critical community needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Y suspended programs and temporarily closed facilities on March 16. Following the recommendations of Gov. Roy Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, it will remain closed through April.

The shutdown has serious long-term implications for the Y’s operations (see “Stay with us” below), but hasn’t stopped the nonprofit community benefit organization from serving the public. The Y has rallied to provide support such as emergency child care, meal programs, homeschool resources, online workouts, and wellness checks.

Child care for essential personnel

“Our Y has the ability to pivot our mission to respond when our communities need us most. We have the expertise to provide emergency child care and other services while doing our part to protect children and our staff,” said Paul Vest, president and CEO of the YMCA of Western North Carolina. “No other organization is better equipped to provide child care to medical personnel, first responders, and the critical workers the community relies on.”

The Y is providing these services in partnership with county emergency management agencies, local school systems, and other nonprofits. Y staff are following all recommendations from health experts, including checking temperatures upon arrival and throughout the day and thorough cleaning.

Susan Jimison, a registered nurse who does home hospice visits, is using YMCA child care in McDowell County for her 8-year-old son, Waylon. “I was really panicking about what I was going to do with him,” the single mother told NC Health News last week. “I have to get out to see my patients.”

To register for emergency child care, go to ymcawnc.org/emergency-childcare.

Food for all

The Y's mobile markets and meal programs have moved into high gear over the past two weeks.

More than 30 scheduled mobile food market sites in five counties are running as scheduled each month, with prepackaged bags of fresh produce. The Y is also serving takeout meals at nine sites across Buncombe, Haywood, and McDowell counties. These sites include the Corpening Memorial YMCA in Marion and the Ferguson Family YMCA in Candler, which serve takeout lunch Monday through Saturday.

As always, there’s no charge for these services, and no questions are asked.

To meet the enormous demand, the Y has partnered with The Venue, a catering and event space in downtown Asheville. The company has donated the use of its certified kitchen and equipment for Y staff and volunteers to prepare takeout meals for people in need.

“We are thoroughly honored to be able to participate in this effort,” said Marta Santamaria, owner of The Venue. “Our goal is to be able to do about 2,000 meals a day.”

Since the closure, the Y has served thousands of children, families and seniors and distributed more than 29,000 pounds of food, 20,000 more than it typically handles in a two-week period.

Anyone who is quarantined and in need of food resources can reach out to 828 775 7081 for assistance. See the full nutrition outreach schedule at ymcawnc.org/nutrition.

Homeschool resources

With North Carolina schools out until May 15, parents and caregivers have found themselves responsible for overseeing their children’s academic activities.

YMCA staff have stepped in to help with fun educational activities, active play ideas, character development exercises, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) projects for all ages.

These resources are available to the public at ymcawnc.org/home-resources.

The Y is supporting middle schoolers with daily check-ins to share new curriculum activities, weekly resource guides, and regular social media updates. A homework hotline is also in the works.

Online engagement

The Y is also offering access to a variety of free online workouts and group exercise classes to help them stay fit during this time of social distancing. These options offer high-quality workouts via TV, computer, tablet, and smartphone:

• Live group exercise classes at facebook.com/ymcawnc

• Workouts and exercise classes at ymcawnc.org/virtual-ymca and the Y’s mobile app

Critical health programming is also happening online and by phone for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and Parkinson’s. YMCA staff are calling senior members to check on them and help prevent social isolation.

“One of the Y’s areas of impact is healthy living, and we’re thrilled that Y certified instructors and other staff are maintaining connections with those we serve. This supports physical and mental health,” Vest said.

Staff support

With YMCAs closed and programs suspended, its revenue has dropped precipitously, but fixed costs such as rent, loan payments, and equipment leases have remained unchanged. This has led to some tough but necessary decisions regarding staff.

"Our staff are the life of our mission. Our purpose-driven culture is one that makes our staff team feel more like family. This makes our decision making particularly painful as it affects people and families we care for deeply," said Vest.

The Y has been forced to furlough more than 700 part-time staff members for whom no work is available. These staff were paid for the time they were scheduled to work the week of March 16. Most full-time exempt positions have been reclassified as hourly non-exempt with reduced weekly hours, and all senior leaders have taken a substantial pay cut.

“We recognize the financial and personal strain this temporary closure causes for our staff and we are doing everything we can to find ways to support them, including offering help with unemployment claims and advocating for them and our most vulnerable neighbors with local and state government,” said Vest. “We’re also working to establish an employee assistance fund.”

He added, “Providing emergency child care to healthcare workers and providing meals to children and families in need not only serves a critical community need, it allows us to put some of our employees back to work.” 

Stay with us

As the Y meets unprecedented challenges in the community, it faces an uncertain future.

Y members are encouraged to contact the Y’s business center if they need assistance with payments. However, “Every cancellation and membership put on hold has a direct impact on the Y’s ability to support its staff team and the community moving forward,” Vest said.

“We know it isn’t possible for everyone, but we are asking members to consider keeping their memberships active so the Y can protect our community during this turbulent time,” Vest said. “We also welcome contributions to our Community Emergency Relief Fund.”

Our community will not be the same when this crisis is over, and it will need the Y more than ever. “We are in this for the long haul, and we need resources to address long-term community and member needs,” Vest said. “Together we can meet this challenge and continue to deliver hope for all.”