The YMCA of Greater Monmouth County pivoted immediately when its facilities shut down in March as the COVID-19 crisis started. The gym floors, exercise spaces and pools were vacant, but employees and volunteers jumped into action to respond to critical community needs.
Working in partnership with area food banks and community organizations, the Y has been distributing hundreds of meals and food supplies four days a week at its facilities in Freehold, Middletown, Old Bridge and Red Bank, according to a press release.
When YMCAs throughout the state were ordered to close their doors in the initial phase of what would become a national health crisis, the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County quickly turned its health and wellness facilities into community hubs for food, meals and other essential services, according to the press release.
The Y initiated and carried out blood drives and COVID-19 testing at several facilities. The Y also offered emergency child care for essential workers, and mental health services for community members struggling during the crisis.
Y President and CEO Laurie Goganzer said, “We knew this unprecedented event would compound stress factors for people in our community who were already struggling to make ends meet.
“The added pressure of social isolation, health and safety fears, concerns about job loss, and food insecurity would have a big impact on those we served. We identified our most immediate needs and did what we could to become a critical safety net and support system,” she said.
The Freehold Borough YMCA remains one of the busiest locations among the Y’s branches in Monmouth and Middlesex counties.
Three days each week, families and senior citizens gather at the Freehold Y for crisis relief boxes from Fulfill, fresh produce from the Freehold Safety Net Group and other food that has been donated to the Y. Nearly 8,000 free meals have been distributed by the Freehold Y since the start of the health crisis, according to the press release.
The Freehold Safety Net is a consortium of nonprofit organizations, civic leaders, clergy and school officials who collaborate to ensure all Freehold residents have access to food at least five days every week.
“The community response to support the food relief efforts in Freehold has been invaluable,” said Jo Ann Rountree, the Y’s senior director of community outreach, who oversees the food distribution in Freehold.
“In addition to Fulfill and the Freehold Safety Net, Investors Bank, ShopRite, Panera Bread, Meet the Need and a local farm have contributed fresh fruit and vegetables, baked goods and prepared foods,” Rountree added.
Rountree said the community support has made it possible to provide additional meals to more than 200 senior citizens who live in the Rug Mill Towers where the Y is located.
Freehold Borough Mayor Kevin Kane said he and the members of the Borough Council are grateful for the Y’s community support during the pandemic.
“With so many of our seniors and families facing food insecurity during this challenging time, we appreciate the YMCA’s efforts to provide meals and help address this serious issue,” Kane said.
“Our world is unpredictable, but our mission remains certain,” Goganzer said. “The Y will always be dedicated to building healthy, secure and connected families and communities.”
Goganzer said dozens of volunteers have worked more than 160 hours assisting with the recent food distribution and food drives – all part of the Y’s Togetherhood initiative, which recruits Y members to provide support outside the walls of the Y.
The Y has also collected nonperishable food, infant formula, diapers and hygiene items for Lunch Break, Fulfill and the Old Bridge Food Bank.
The Y will continue food distribution at these locations until further notice:
• Freehold Borough YMCA, 41 Center St., Freehold; Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Fulfill crisis relief boxes and a variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and other donations of food.
• Red Bank Family YMCA, 166 Maple Ave., Red Bank; Tuesday, noon to 2 p.m.; Fresh produce boxes from Seashore Produce and Fruit Co.
• Old Bridge Family YMCA, 1 Mannino Park Drive, Old Bridge; Monday, noon to 4 p.m. Emergency meal kits from Community Food Bank of NJ and fresh produce from Seashore Produce and Fruit Co.
• Bayshore Family Success Center, 945 Route 36, Leonardo (Middletown); Monday and Wednesday by appointment, and Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Fulfill crisis relief boxes and baby items.
Goganzer said Y administrators anticipate the need for food supplies will continue through the state’s gradual reopening, especially as schools close for the summer, ending their breakfast and lunch services.
The Y will continue to provide mental health counseling via telehealth and by appointment at its counseling and social services centers in Matawan and Eatontown, according to the press release.
Virtual health and wellness classes will also continue, and the Y has launched outdoor classes in Freehold, Old Bridge and Red Bank. Pickleball will also be available in Red Bank.
Child care is available for families at the Freehold Family YMCA, and summer day camps will open July 6 in Freehold and Camp Zehnder in Wall Township.
Additionally, COVID-19 testing is ongoing Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Red Bank YMCA by the VNA of Central New Jersey’s Community Health Centers.
For more information about food distribution, donations, volunteering or other Y programs and services, connect with the Y at www.ymcanj.org or on social media by following @ymcaGMC.