It’s only 7:00 am, but the YMCA gymnasium in Bethany, Oklahoma, is already buzzing with activity. The facility’s summer camp program has just opened its doors for the morning, but already there are dozens of kids chatting, playing games, and eagerly querying the counselors: “What are we going to do today?”
That answer is, just about anything a kid in summer camp could ask for: swimming. Playing at the park. Indoor games. A Lego-themed STEAM project (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) from Snapology. Field trips. Library visits. Arts and crafts. And this year, something new: the Bethany YMCA partnered with Feed the Children for its pilot program, Summer Feed and Read.
“We know that, right here in Oklahoma County, it’s estimated that 37,000 children don’t always have enough access to the nutritious food they need to thrive and succeed,” said Tamara Sandberg, Vice President of U.S. Program Development at Feed the Children. “We also know that kids often experience a slide in academic achievement over the summer months.”
Summer Feed and Read seeks to address both issues, by helping ensure kids in the program will get enough to eat while school is out, and that they’ll have access to reading material to help reduce summer slide. The Bethany YMCA is one of a handful of local Oklahoma partner organizations – all located in areas with a high concentration of food insecurity and need – where the program has been enacted.
“We have a lot of folks in our program who are on financial assistance,” said Taylor York, District Executive Director for the Northwest District YMCAs. “While these kids are with us, we want to be sure that we’re enriching them physically and mentally. We're playing games, keeping them busy, taking them on field trips, but we also want to make sure they’re eating.”
At the Bethany YMCA, nearly 100 children between 5 and 11 are signed up for the summer camp. Managing this number of kids requires some creativity, but the counselors and the facility are well-equipped for the challenge. The kids are divided into groups based on age and interest and rotated through timed activities, which take place across several of the Y’s rooms and outdoor play area, all under the supervision of multiple counselors.
Feed the Children will provide lunch for all campers for the duration of the camp. Meal kits contain a fruit, vegetable, protein source and grain, with milk to drink. And the program’s kickoff day came with a special surprise for the kids: after lunch, the gym bleachers held rows and rows of books. Starting with the youngest, the children lined up to choose a book to read that afternoon – and then later, whenever they wanted, since the book was theirs to keep. One little boy seemed hesitant when told he could keep his book: “I can’t pay for it!” - but was happy to learn that there was no cost and the book was his, thanks to the support of your donations.
“Each summer, all of our camps fill up, so we know that there’s a need for more service, for more space, and more opportunities and more resources,” said York. “These kids in our program...they may need that extra meal; they may need that extra book; they may need those extra essentials that Feed the Children has given us. When you donate, you’re giving a child an opportunity to live a life that other kids may already have, but that child may not. That’s the ultimate goal, to ensure that every kid has a fair shake in life and the same opportunities to succeed.”