Free Lunch? YEP! The YMCA's Summer Food Program Provides Healthy Meals For Kids

Chef Andrew Zimmern
Photo credit: Courtesy

When you think of the YMCA, you may think of it as a place to play basketball, go swimming or benefit from an inexpensive gym membership — but it offers so much more. 

Take, for example, its Summer Food Program, "The Y Feeds Kids."

Together with a year-round program, the program provides healthy food for children who usually depend on free and reduced-price meals during the school year. It launched in 2011 and last year (2018), the Y served their hundred millionth meal. Can you believe that?! Incredible.

The Y feeds kids year-round, but most importantly when the school year ends. That's when 83% of those 22 million low-income kids who receive free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program lose their meals. Typically they're getting breakfast, lunch and a snack at school.

When the YMCA reached out to chef Andrew Zimmern to help raise awareness for its summer food program, Andrew didn't hesitate at all. 

RELATED: Andrew Zimmern Takes Us on a Tour of 4 of His Favorite Food Trucks

Having spent time both at a neighborhood Y in the city of Minneapolis where he lives, and with a family that relies very heavily on the services at the Y, Andrew has seen firsthand why the Y's free food program is so important — all year round.

"To walk into a lovely home that is well-cared for with responsible parents who are active in their community, helping other people and listen to a mom talk about the fact that despite her good job, her standing in the community and all the help that she gets from friends and loved ones, that she can't make ends meet, both financially and childcare wise for her children, that's heartbreaking," he tells us.

"So the Y steps in and serves meals and snacks all day [during the summer] and fills what we call the meal gap," Andrew explains. "They're serving fresh, nutritious balanced meals with vegetables, milk, etc. The Y takes this responsibility as seriously as they take responsibility for all their other programming."

The YMCA's Summer Food Program is available at more than 2,500 locations across the country. It's hosted at YMCAs as well as parks and low-income apartment complexes, so transportation should never be a barrier.

In fact last summer, the Y served over 7 million meals and snacks to more than 300,000 kids. (Wow!)

Now, Andrew not only wanted to become a spokesperson for the program because it's an amazing cause, but also because the Y has played an integral role in his own life as a safe space for him early in his sobriety.

"It was a terrible, terrible time in my life," Andrew says in his "My Y Story" video. "I started experimenting more heavily with drugs. I started drinking every day."

"Some friends organized yet another intervention. That was the night of January 28, 1992, and I've been sober ever since," he continues. "Without the Y there, who knows if I would have wound up becoming the person that I am today."

"The Y is the largest community building organization in our country," Andrew says. "Plain and simple." 

Watch Andrew's full "My Y Story" below. And for more information about the Y's Summer Food Program, go to

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