KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Food insecurity is an issue the Tri-Cities community faces every day, and it can have a long-term negative impact on children.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one in seven children in the United States lives in a household that struggles to be able to afford food. Locally, that number is one in four.

Thankfully, a strong partnership between a local healthcare provider and a community organization is working to address these needs. In this edition of HMG Health Matters, Daytime Tri-Cities visits YMCA of Greater Kingsport for a firsthand look at a special program.

The kitchen inside the YMCA of Greater Kingsport is a busy place. Each weekday morning, they’re stirring, stacking and packing nutritious meals. During Daytime Tri-Cities’ visit, they were joined by leaders of Holston Medical Group (HMG), who volunteered time to get an up-close look at the community mission.

“As you know, good nutrition is so important for all of us, but it’s really especially important for development,” said Dr. Cheryl Stanski, vice president of HMG. “It’s essential for kids to have proper treatments for food insecurity or inadequacy. They face malnutrition, stunted growth and current development and emotional stress weakened immune system. So it’s really a critical need for our children.”

The YMCA developed a plan in 2020 to expand their feeding programs outside the building. Some of the meals are actually packed up and delivered off-site to communities and neighborhoods all over the region.

“It’s actually like a miracle come true,” said KC Cousineau, YMCA President and CEO. “Because we were talking about these things before COVID. And then to watch the problem get exacerbated, and for funding and resources and people to step forward and help us so that we can actually take a dream and build a kitchen, and then now be serving almost 500 kids dinner every day. It’s been truly magical.”

HMG was among the first groups to step forward to help the YMCA’s mission.

“There is a gap in the funding of our program,” Cousineau said. “The food is provided in a USDA grant, but to staff the vehicles, to transport the containers. And with fuel prices these days, we absolutely could not move forward with the program expansion without community partners like HMG. So their volunteer service and their monetary funding is critical for us to be able to keep doing what we’re doing today and to grow the program.”

Dr. Stanski said HMG was thrilled to be part of the program.

“HMG is always looking for partnership opportunities in our community, especially that address root causes of health,” Dr. Stanski said. “And when YMCA approached us about this, it was just a perfect fit. You know, we know nutrition is so important. It’s such a need in our community and we just felt like habitable space.”

The program doesn’t just help the community members it feeds; it also nourishes the spirit of those who volunteer.

“We made food for the kids,” Dr. Stanski said. “We learned about what goes into the meals, how hard the staff and volunteers here work to accomplish this program, and it was really amazing. I had no idea how many children were being fed through this program.”

The YMCA of Greater Kingsport is looking to expand the program. The organization is working to build another kitchen in Rogersville and has a goal of 30 sites and 800 meals each day.

If you’d like to help either by volunteering or by making a monetary contribution, visit the YMCA of Greater Kinsport’s website. You can learn more about HMG’s Mission in Motion program by visiting their website as well.