Most of us know the Y for its sports, fitness and youth camps. But Thursday night, the University City YMCA gym will resonate not with squeaking sneakers but the soft dinner talk of hundreds of guests enjoying a free Thanksgiving feast they might not otherwise afford. Through this event and many other actions, our Y lives out the “C” of the Young Men’s Christian Association.
The start of the Young Men’s Christian Association
Youth sports teams, summer camps and even physical fitness classes had no place in the early YMCA.
The Young Men’s Christian Association started in 1844 as a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men who had left farm and family in desperate search for work in the factories of London.
Gyms? They didn’t appear in YMCAs until after the Civil War, though we can credit Boston YMCA staffer Robert Roberts for developing exercise classes and coining the phrase “body building” and 1881.
The modern Y embraces its mission
University City YMCA offers all of the programs and facilities we have come to expect at a modern Y, from a fully outfitted fitness center to extensive youth sports and summer programs.
“We do fitness as well as anyone,” says University City YMCA Executive Director Paul Petr. “When most people think of us, they think of us as a gym, but we are more, a lot more. We believe in our Christian mission that we are for healthy spirit, minds and bodies, and that we are for all people.”
That mission plays out in hundreds of ways, including free swim and water-safety lessons for hundreds of children, partnerships with the nearby Governors Village schools, the Y Achievers program for teens, and even a back-to-school program for Vance High teachers to make sure they take care of themselves.
In just about every program offered at the University City YMCA, including the popular summer day camps, 40-60 percent of the people taking part get “scholarships” for reduced fees, Petr says. Through its alliance with business partners, donations and the Y’s annual campaign, “Our Y invests over a quarter of million dollars in our community,” Petr says.
Providing both food and hope
On Thursday, University City YMCA and a team of business and faith-community partners will host about 700 people at the annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner. “This event is about many groups collectively banding together for the YMCA to be a vessel for the greater good of the community,” Petr says.
The event started about 15 years ago as a cookout by staff and Y volunteers to provide a meal and additional food for needy families in the nearby Derita community. Now more than a dozen businesses and churches help put on the evening meal for 700 in the YMCA gym.
Food Lion provides the meal, including chicken, beans, potatoes, stuffing and gravy. A church and catering company have volunteered to cook the dinner. Several businesses including Panera Bread, BJ’s, FSI and Carolina Rental will provide additional food, supplies, tables and chairs.
Several churches are providing additional food and volunteers, including volunteer bus drivers to bring people to the dinner. Virtually the entire University City YMCA staff and the Y’s volunteer board help, as well.
The guests come through YMCA partners including the Women’s Domestic Abuse Shelter, the Men’s Homeless Shelter, and with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. “We get the word out to churches, ‘If you know of people in need of a meal, we have a meal and, hopefully, through our food drive, we also can provide some groceries,'” Petr says.
“We help to nourish their bodies, but we hope we do a lot more to nourish their souls,” he adds. “We know people are struggling, and it goes back to our Christian mission that we know you are struggling, and there are people praying for you and caring.”
Thanksgiving Food Drive needs more donations
University City YMCA continues to accept donations of cash and food for its Thanksgiving Food Drive. People attending Thursday’s dinner will receive food that they can prepare later at home. Drop off your donations today through Thursday at University City YMCA, 8100 Old Mallard Creek Road. For details, call the Y at 704-716-6700 or CLICK HERE to visit the food-drive webpage, which includes a list of recommended foods.
Who is helping put on the Thanksgiving dinner
The following groups are partnering with the University City YMCA to provide the free pre-Thanksgiving Dinner this Thursday evening at the Y.
- Food Lion – Providing enough food to feed 700
- Connect Christian Church – Preparing 350 meals
- Simply Elegant Catering – Preparing 350 meals
- Church of Latter Day Saints – Food Drive and Volunteer Clean Up
- Elevation Church – Children’s Craft and Art Table Volunteers
- St. Paul’s Baptist Church – Volunteering
- Pneuma Life Church – Preparing the Desserts
- World Changes Church – Food Drive
- Panera Bread Company, Concord – Providing Bread
- BJ’s – Beverages FSI – Providing all of the paper products and utensils