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MONDAY, August 15 — Imagine a typical yellow school bus. Now imagine that it has been repainted with vibrant pictures of fresh fruits and vegetables. And the rows of vinyl seats on the inside have been gutted and replaced by a mobile kitchen. Now imagine this bus rolling into impoverished neighborhoods, doling out meals and teaching about nutrition. This is the vision behind the YMCA of Metropolitan Lansing’s new Healthy Living Mobile Kitchen, unveiled earlier this week.
"This has been a project that has been special to me personally for several years," said Kellie Dean, president and CEO of Dean Transportation and a board member of the YMCA. “We're repurposing our wheels for the right reasons. We all know, when you see the smiles on these young people, when they get the opportunity to know that we care and a healthy meal is available to them, that's what it's going to be all about. This is just the beginning. We're proud to be a little part of this; maybe this is the first of many to come."
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, nearly one in four Michigan children live in poverty. Other research shows that nearly one in five children in the U.S. goes to bed hungry every night. The Healthy Living Mobile Kitchen is designed to help combat child hunger in Greater Lansing.While the original plan for the bus was to just remove the seats and give out sack lunches from it, the staff and partners of YMCA decided to renovate the 54-passenger bus into a handicap accessible air-conditioned mobile kitchen stocked with fresh foods and non-perishable items that will be distributed in neighborhoods throughout the tri-county area,
"The need is real. Too many of our families struggle every day to put food on the table, and oftentimes, they don't have the extra money to feed their kids healthy lunches,” said Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. “The YMCA's mobile kitchen is just what our community needs. This one step can change a family and community."
In addition to providing meals to families throughout the tri-county area, the bus will feature an interactive, demonstrative portion of the kitchen that will educate families on how to prepare seasonal foods, read labels, set up a garden and more. The bus will serve meals to children year-round.
"The work that we're doing is much more than food distribution,” said Jeff Scheibel, president and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Lansing. “The education side is essential to the long-term success of the work that we do in our community, and we're so honored to do that. We look for great things to come,"
The mobile kitchen was made possible by donations from several partners of YMCA, including the donation of the bus and $25,000 from Dean Transportation.
For the families who have been using the summer feeding programs for years, the new mobile bus will impact their lives drastically.
"As a parent with of four children (and) with many financial obligations, it means a lot to know my kids have access to the summer feeding program every day and will receive a healthy meal,” said Kiesha Arnold, a parent who was there to check out the new bus. “Our neighborhood faces many challenge, and knowing the YMCA cares about our kids means a ton."