The needs in Atlanta may have changed, but YMCA of Metro Atlanta continues to serve

April 15, 2020

By now, you’ve seen pictures, videos and heard stories about some of the scenes facing many of our hospitals around the United States — more recently a scene in Midtown Atlanta that spread around the Internet via social media.

Doctors, nurses and staff file in to work another long day uncertain of what they may encounter. As the shift changes, people look down from the windows of apartment complexes they’ve been confined to for the past three weeks, cheering and applauding these brave people.

These hospital workers put themselves in harm’s way in order to treat patients stricken with a novel, highly-contagious and potentially deadly virus. And they do this because it’s their job. They’ve been deemed “essential.” In the same way, so have many grocery store workers, city employees, law enforcement officers, retail employees, pharmacists — all of them risking exposure to help others feel safe and give them some sense of normalcy.

But take into account for a few minutes who it is they leave behind — who they leave each day they walk out their front door to work. Who takes care of their children?

“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks,” says Amanda Minix, director of development for YMCA of Metro Atlanta. “We made the decision pretty early on in alignment with the school systems to shut down our youth-serving programs, and so the best thing for us to do was to close down our branches completely.”

The reason for closing down these branches, and for forcing much of the city into a semi-quarantined state, is the pandemic outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

About two weeks into March, major cities across the country began shutting down restaurants, bars, gyms and schools in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. As of April 14, the infectious disease, COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness with symptoms such as cough, fever and in severe cases, difficulty breathing, has infected more than 579,000 people nationwide and killed more than 22,000.  

Businesses shut down in Atlanta and its surrounding communities, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on March 24 issued a “stay-at-home” order for the next 14 days.

Social distancing guidelines were encouraged at the federal, state and local levels.

But Minix knew there were kids whose families needed help. Many of these children were most vulnerable to food insecurity and relied on meals at school or snacks from the YMCA.

“We were able to leverage partnerships and existing food programs to provide immediate hunger relief,” she says. “We are adding sites and programs almost every few days to make sure needs are fulfilled.”

They are providing 5,500 snacks and dinners each week and more than 20,000 pounds of food, for a total of more than 1,150 bags of food for families in need.

But there were still gaps in the services. YMCA started to notice the need for additional childcare.

“We’ve been in the childcare space for decades, and we have the ability and staff to take care of these children,” Minix says. “We began thinking of how we can do childcare for the parents who can’t work from home, and we realized it’s not just hospital staff, but police officers and other first responders, the people that work at grocery stores and other essential workers who you may not normally think of being on the frontlines of the crisis.”

In 13 YMCA locations, there were more than 500 registered for childcare over the past two weeks, and it has been growing every single day.

Minix says the classes are divided in a 1-9 ratio of teacher to students, and they started utilizing all parts of the YMCA facility so there wasn’t any overlap, people could keep their distance and not be in a confined, closed space. Each day, someone checks temperatures and symptoms of each person who walks through the door, and the staff deep cleans at all locations multiple times a day.

“We have a vigilance around hand-washing and cleaning to make sure we keep everyone healthy,” Minix says.

But they needed to be able to expand. She says they wanted to offer 2,000 childcare spots across Greater Atlanta.

But they needed help in order to expand.

A recent grant from United Way of Greater Atlanta and Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta will help YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta grow to serve more families.

On March 26, United Way and Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta announced its first round of grants allocated from its Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta was given $500,000 in grant funds.

“We have extended our hours from 5:30 a.m. to 8 pm.,” Minix says. “And starting [March 30] we have two sites that are able to serve infants.” The YMCA originally designed the program to serve children ages 3-12, but are now able to accommodate younger children as well.

Minix says they are just “trying to offer some relief” during this difficult time. All of the children are cared for by early learning professionals and are receiving programs that prepare these kids once they do go back to school.

“The Y has been here for more than 160 years, and we will be here to serve the community every day until this is over,” Minix says. “The needs change and there may be different phases, but we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we’re right there on the front lines, meeting the needs of the community.”

You can provide help today for YMCA of Metro Atlanta and other nonprofits who are filling in gaps in counties across Georgia during this time of crisis. Donate today to the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund and provide resources and supports for these nonprofits across Greater Atlanta.