From Fitness to Feeding: Charlestown YMCA Was a Stopgap in Feeding the Town, Will Continue as Facility Re-Opens

Charlestown YMCA Director Dru Belli had one of the most adventurous first years that one might be able to have after taking the helm of a critical non-profit organization.

Starting last October, changes came fast and furious – and then the pandemic hit.

“I started in October and in January we announced we were selling the Inn and then COVID hit in March,” he said. “It’s been an interesting year, but I am proud to work for YMCA Greater Boston and I’m proud of all the organizations we have partnered with and how pivotal we were in responding to the pandemic.”

Belli said they realized they were going to have to close down operations at the YMCA – located in the Navy Yard – around March 15. They also soon realized that Boston Schools were closing and they were going to need to make some changes fast – including figuring out how they could serve the community.

“On March 15, we decided to shut down our facility for health and wellness and aquatics,” he said. “We knew by the 17th we have to pivot fast. Our association with our main headquarters and with other groups produced feeding programs and we started feeding sites all over Boston in collaboration with City Fresh foods. We started three feeding sites in Charlestown immediately at the YMCA, Charlestown High School and the Kennedy Center…To date we have served 50,000 meals just in Charlestown. It’s been good to be able to do that for the community with our partners. It’s been amazing.”

Throughout all of the YMCA Greater Boston association, they have served 2 million meals, 1.9 million grab and go lunches, and 112,000 bags of groceries delivered to 70 locations.

Right now, they are embarking on a partnership with Boston Housing Authority to provide 2,500 meals a week to the Development with City Fresh, Commonwealth Kitchen and Haley House.

“Food insecurity is still an issue in Boston, it’s surrounding areas and especially in Charlestown,” said Belli.

That program will start on Sept. 21 and go through the end of the year.

Another helping hand was to provide youth jobs for this summer, which have now wrapped up. Across the YMCA associations and in Charlestown too, there were 406 youth that worked over the summer in various capacities.

“We were able to have teens come in and for many it was the first job they have had,” said Belli. “To be able to provide that to them at this time was key.”

Now, as they continue their food security operations, they are also moving back to their original mission and re-opening their facilities in the Navy Yard to members. On July 27, the Charlestown YMCA opened for cardio, free weights, exercise classes and the pool. They have branded their re-opening ‘Safe for You; Safe for Us.’

“Right now we are working on our programming and so in October we will tentatively start our fall programming services with swimming lessons and sports,” he said. “We’re definitely making adjustments to how we deliver these services.”

There will be a Preview Week for the Charlestown YMCA starting Sept. 28.

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