Taunton YMCA fills 'serious' teen nutrition gap with free hot, healthy meals


Article published by Ed Baker, The Taunton Daily Gazette.

TAUNTON — Young people can enjoy free nutritious meals and snacks after school at the YMCA in Taunton thanks to the Teen Nutrition Program, Old Colony YMCA Teen Nutrition Program coordinator Louann Davis said.

"There is space for the kids to do homework, socialize and play video games," she said. "It's a safe space for them."

Davis said the meals and snacks are served from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in a dining room.

"We provide five hot meals a week on Monday through Friday," she said. "They can have snacks and drinks."

Davis said there are approximately 45 teens who participate daily in the Teen Nutrition Program, which began in November for teens between the ages of 13 and 17 years old. The majority are from Taunton, but there are also some from Raynham, she said.

Davis said YMCA officials began the Teen Nutrition Program in November 2022 in response to recognizing a need for teens to have nutritious meals and snacks.

"We did not realize how serious it was until we started giving out food," she added.

Teen Nutrition Program meal and snack offerings

Davis said for the last two months Teen Nutrition has been purchasing the meals from Home Plate, a restaurant with a sports bar theme on Bay Street.

"I asked the kids where they wanted me to order food from, and they said Home Plate," she said.

Home Plate co-owner Natalie Anderson said the teens' request to have more food served from her restaurant "was a nice compliment for kitchen workers."

"We have tried to offer a variety of food and tried to make it fun and healthy for the kids," she said. "We've done everything from Caesar salads, grilled chicken, chicken parm over penne and pasta and pulled pork sandwiches with apple sauce. We have done stir fry and vegan meals. We have made chicken broccoli."

Home Plate Chef Shannon Woodward said the teens have also been served Italian stuffed shells, chicken Alfredo, pizza, American chop suey and meatloaf.

"It's amazing to give the kids access to different flavored food," he said.

Woodward said the cooks "are into" making nutritious meals for the kids. He said they serve the meals in individual boxes to help the teens "grab a meal and go about whatever their activity is at the Y."

"They are boxed for the kids to pick up at their leisure," he said.

Home Plate co-owner Robert Anderson said the teens' request for his restaurant to serve meals at the YMCA is similar to what many parents experience.

"Kids often demand where they want to go out to eat," he said. "We always try to go out of our way to bring families into our restaurant."

Anderson said Home Plate plans to provide free meals for kids who are accompanied by their parents on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 14, 21 and 28.

"The parents will have to pay for whatever they order, but their kids will get a free meal," he said. "We are doing that because of the economic craziness. Every family needs a break once in a while."

Food favorites at Old Colony YMCA

Taunton resident Lisandro Lopes, 13, who likes to play basketball and go swimming, said he enjoys the chicken Alfredo and chicken tenders that Home Plate has served.

"I come here almost every day," he said.

Taunton resident Felix Castrillo, 13, who also likes swimming and basketball, said he enjoys the chicken nuggets and pizza.

"I'm thankful I can get it for free," he said. "I usually come here every day."

Taunton resident Riley Sheehan, 16, said he likes playing basketball regularly at the YMCA.

"I'm thankful they started the food plan, and I like the people in charge of it," he said.

A new youth basketball program

Davis said kids in the Teen Nutrition Program could join a new basketball program scheduled to begin on Feb. 11.

"It will be a team program that will be held on Thursday nights through May," she said. "The kids won't have to pay to play. There will be referees, and the games will be like regular games."

Old Colony YMCA Program Coordinator Dylan Kehoe said teens between ages 13-17 could register to play by completing registration forms at the YMCA or emailing him at dkehoe@oldcolonyymca.org.

"It will give the kids a safe environment to play with their friends," he said.

Southcoast Community Foundation grants $60,000 for Teen Nutrition Program

Old Colony YMCA Executive Director Roman Davis said the Teen Nutrition Program is being funded by a $60,000 grant from Southcoast Community Foundation, a New Bedford-based non-profit.

"This program will run until the end of September 2023," he said. "We will seek to apply to Southcoast Community Foundation again next year to continue the program and seek other grant opportunities if they arise."

Davis said the Teen Nutrition Program is "one of the best programs" created at the Old Colony YMCA branch in Taunton.

"The teens of our city deserve the best," he added.

Parents can enroll their child in Teen Nutrition by calling Louann Davis at 508-823-3320 or emailing ldavis@oldcolonyymca.org.