The YMCA of Greater Seattle is in their 144th year of serving their community as a hub for whole person health and community empowerment. They have met the many different needs throughout King County since 1876. Facing WWI, WWII, the Great Seattle Fire and a number of other local crises, YMCA of Greater Seattle is particularly experienced in meeting the needs of their community during emergency situations. So as Seattle, and the greater King County area, quickly broke out as the first epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States, the YMCA of Greater Seattle was prepared.
First, they quickly took stock of their skills and resources to identify the best ways they can serve their city. They recognized that some of the services regularly offered are still needed, even with everything else shutdown. Parents who are essential workers are in need of additional childcare due to school closures. The food insecure have amplified needs for nutrients. And those without housing now face new challenges and threats. Alayna Becker, YMCA of Greater Seattle’s communications manager, took some time to share the different ways they are going above and beyond for their community during COVID-19.
To start, the Hunger Programs at YMCA of Greater Seattle are offered year-round, but during this time, these services are even more crucial. Families who rely on the school system for breakfast and lunch are at particular risk with schools being closed. The Seattle Y team saw this risk and were able to respond quickly.
The Hunger Programs are currently serving over 5,000 meals weekly throughout King County. Each facility is operating differently to maximize their resources and meet the unique needs of their community. To do this safely, they’ve created a drive-thru program at various branches to continue providing food without endangering the recipients or the team of people passing out the food. By converting their unused camp kitchens into meal prep sites for the Hunger Programs, they’ve been able to increase their reach. Utilizing all their resources in creative ways is instrumental in serving the Greater Seattle Area.
Homeless & Housing Insecure
In addition to food insecure families, the homeless and housing insecure also find themselves facing increased levels of risk during this time. As the largest provider of crisis housing in King County, YMCA of Greater Seattle is providing shelter for this demographic. Currently, they are housing 300 kids nightly in both long-term and short-term situations. In addition to housing, their crisis intervention team is incredibly busy due to increased call volume to Child Protective Services. Overall, the YMCA of Greater Seattle is providing essential housing and safety services to those in need during COVID-19.
Child Care for Essential Workers
YMCA of Greater Seattle offers childcare year-round, meaning they have a number of qualified professionals to care for children. They also have branches under mandatory closure due to city ordinances. While taking stock of their resources, these specific assets aligned perfectly to continue offering childcare to those in need, with one caveat: free childcare for essential workers.
Currently, twelve branches are acting as childcare centers with a total capacity to serve 400 children every day. They chose the branches based on the greatest proximity to families to simplify pick-ups/drop-ups, while serving as many people as possible. The branches in use are incredibly large by nature, making it easy to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Additional safety measures are also in place including regular cleaning, staggering drop-off times and temperature/wellness checks for both staff and children. With ACTIVENet, they were able to move quickly to process new registrations.
The Response & Next Steps
While all their services have resulted in beautiful and emotional responses, the free childcare for essential workers has definitely attracted the most gratitude. Becker mentioned they’ve received a number of emails from parents who weren’t sure how they could continue doing their essential work without any childcare. From affording this unforeseen expense due to school closures to figuring out how to continue working with children at home, YMCA of Greater Seattle met a dire need for essential workers in the Seattle area.
Becker’s advice for any organization, or person, looking to serve their community during COVID-19 is “review resources and skills and it should be pretty easy to find a way to help. When we do the best with what we have and work together, it’s amazing how far we can go.”