SHREWSBURY, NJ: The YMCA of Greater Monmouth County pivoted immediately when its facilities shut down in March as the COVID 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 their facilities in Red Bank, Middletown, Freehold and Old Bridge.

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. 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.

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Y President and CEO Laurie Goganzer said, “We knew that 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.”

The Freehold Borough YMCA remains one of the busiest locations among the Y’s branches in Monmouth and Middlesex counties. Three days every week, families and seniors gather at the Freehold Y for crisis relief boxes from Fulfill, fresh produce from the Freehold Safety Net Group and other food donated to the Y. Nearly 8,000 free meals have been distributed by the Freehold Y since the start of the health crisis.

The Freehold Safety Net is a consortium of nonprofits, 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,” according to 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 says the community support has made it possible to provide additional meals to over 200 senior citizens who live in the building where the Y is located.

Freehold Borough Mayor Kevin Kane said he and the 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 over 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.

“Togetherhood has been an amazing resource and fit for this project,” she said. “We are blessed with community members who stepped up to the plate during this crisis. It’s overwhelming when we realize all that our volunteers do.”

The Y has also collected nonperishable food, infant formula, diapers, and hygiene items for Lunch Break, Fulfill and the Old Bridge Township Food Bank.

The Y will continue food distribution at these locations until further notice:

Red Bank Family YMCA, 166 Maple Avenue, Red Bank, NJ
Tuesday, 12-2 p.m. 
Fresh produce boxes from Seashore Produce & Fruit Co.

Bayshore Family Success Center, 945 NJ-36, Leonardo, NJ
Monday & Wednesday by appointment, and Friday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Fulfill crisis relief boxes and baby items.

Freehold Borough YMCA, 41 Center Street, Freehold, NJ
Monday, Wednesday & Friday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Fulfill crisis relief boxes and a variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other donations of food.

Old Bridge Family YMCA, 1 Mannino Park Drive, Old Bridge, NJ
Monday, 12-4 p.m. 
Emergency meal kits from Community Food Bank of NJ and fresh produce from Seashore Produce & Fruit Co.

Goganzer said the Y anticipates 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 critical mental health counseling via telehealth and by appointment at its counseling and social services centers in Matawan and Eatontown.

Virtual health and wellness classes will also continue, and on June 26 the Y will launch outdoor classes in  Red Bank, Middletown, Freehold and Old Bridge. Pickle Ball 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.

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 on 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.

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