Familiar white buses have trumpeted the arrival of blue-shirted heroes every weekday since March 17, as the Covington YMCA delivers much-needed food and supplies to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
by Kari Apted
The Covington Family YMCA’s familiar white buses have set out on an important journey every weekday since March 17. Driven by blue-shirted YMCA staff, each bus has English and Spanish signs taped to the windows, announcing their mission. Volunteers help load the buses with large bags, boxes and coolers packed with simple, yet vital, cargo.
When the drivers pull into their designated neighborhoods, children pour out of their homes and run behind the buses, eager to see what is on board. They line up patiently, then head back home, their arms filled with food and other necessities. For months, the combined efforts of dozens of donors have been faithfully delivered into the hands of those who need it. When the COVID-19 epidemic hit, it was especially challenging for families that were already under financial stress. Many found themselves laid off or unemployed at the same time their children began doing school at home. Covington Family YMCA Executive Director Louly Hay-Kapp saw an opportunity to help feed children in need while schools were closed.
“We started out providing lunches that kids could pick up at the Y,” Hay-Kapp said. “Then we realized we had the donations to do more lunches and had three buses we could use to deliver them.” Although the Newton County School System’s COVID-19 lunch program reached many children, neighborhoods at the far reaches of the county were not as fortunate. The YMCA hunger relief program focused on reaching these underserved neighborhoods. “Our service spans Newton County. We serve some families out on Highway 36, others out on Highway 142,” Hay-Kapp said. “We’re delivering up to 375 lunches per day right now.”
Between March 17 and May 22, the Covington Family YMCA delivered 13,774 individual meals to children in need. These lunches were sometimes supplemented with breakfast foods. In addition, 1,116 “Pantry Packs” were delivered to the children’s families. These special boxes included a variety of grocery staples to provide food for other times of day. Hay-Kapp hopes to continue the food program throughout the summer if donations and volunteers remain at the same level.
“We still need food and financial donations, but every time we start to get low, this amazing community comes through for us.”Covington Family YMCA Executive Director Louly Hay-Kapp
“We’ve had countless donations from individuals, businesses and churches,” she said. “Some churches donate food while others are making sandwiches for us. We still need food and financial donations, but every time we start to get low, this amazing community comes through for us.”
While eliminating hunger is the primary goal of the project, Hay-Kapp has been taken aback by how community involvement has allowed them to meet other needs.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that we’re not just dropping off lunches,” she said. “We’re checking in with them to see what their current needs are, to see if they’re alright or if anyone is sick. That’s been one of the unexpected benefits of doing this. As we came back every day, they began to trust us and tell us things they need.”
Due to a partnership with the Rotary Club of Covington, the Y has also been able to deliver shoes, clothing, baby supplies and other necessities to families in the program. As Hay-Kapp got to know the families the YMCA served, she learned that for some, the impact of the lockdown was severe.
“Some families don’t have a vehicle to go get food,” Hay-Kapp said. “Some have cars but no gas money to get to the store. In some families, both parents have lost their jobs due to the restrictions. In some areas, the kids run up behind the buses because they’re so excited to see us coming.” Hay-Kapp appreciates the overwhelming response the YMCA has received from the community during the unprecedented lockdown situation. “People just want to help, to do something tangible in the lives of people most impacted by COVID,” she said. “It’s making such a great impact. The community has been so responsive.”
Hay-Kapp has a personal commitment to the program and finds it fulfilling to see the substantial way families are being helped during this trying time. Although other staff members and volunteers could drive the bus routes without her, the director makes it a point to go out on deliveries every day.
“We have been in the lucky spot, because we get to see the donations come in and we also get to see the recipients when they receive the food,” Hay-Kapp said. “We are so lucky to get to see both.”