Found My Y: Volunteering with Purpose on MLK Day

Last updated: May 12, 2022, at 11:11 a.m. PT

Originally published: April 15, 2022, at 9:14 a.m. PT

A photo with a smiley volunteer with a mask

By Y News Staff

With an arm full of food, Claire John, 17, sets everything down on a table, and with swift precision starts to drop bread, meats, and more into bags. Just as quickly as she had arrived, she was off to grab more food for more bags in waiting.

At times, Claire is a blur, racing back and forth from pallets of produce to bags, and she makes it clear, she’s happy to talk, but only if you can keep up. “If you're on this earth, why not do something nice,” Claire said. “I know what it’s like, lots of kids need help... the world is hard (and) I know that this helps.” Claire is a teen in foster care who has lived in group homes, has friends and family in homeless shelters, and has seen the impact of volunteerism and experienced need in her own life.

“There were times when I really didn’t have food or things that I needed,” she said. Claire’s experiences mirror those of thousands of other youth across the region. Hunger is a chronic problem that has a big impact on how kids and families learn, grow, work, and live. In King County, 25 percent of youth do not have reliable access to enough food. During the pandemic, food insecurity only grew, increasing health inequities and hunger.

Watch Video from MLK Day of Volunteering 2022 - BackPack Meal Program @ CCFY

Along with community partners, volunteers, donors, and staff, the Y is committed to serving the needs of youth and ensuring every child goes to bed with a full stomach. Claire discovered volunteerism and a passion for serving at a young age. She started working at a food bank at 13-years-old and spent last summer working at a retirement home. She also aids other young people in finding help and services.

The desire to help, and a day off from school, brought her to the Coal Creek Family YMCA in January 2022 for the Y’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Next to Claire, nearly two dozen volunteers and Y staff gathered around rows of tables stacked with soup, granola bars, oatmeal, fruits, and more. An army of hands packed produce, canned goods, and snacks into 350 meal kits, as others packed finished kits into carts to be dispatched to students across Renton, Tukwila, and Redmond, who are facing hunger and food insecurity at home.

Found My Y Infographic

Special care is given to curating the kits with an emphasis on sourcing foods to be both healthy and inclusive.

“Some of the kids started asking for more diverse foods,” said Andy Sharpe, Executive Director of the Coal Creek Family Y. “They share unfamiliar foods with their family, it started to become a surprise to look forward to.”

The Y and our partners have made extra efforts to include regional items such as noodles from South Korea, tortillas from Mexico, and recipes for dishes from Asia, South America, and other cultures from around the world.

The Y produces and distributes kits to area youth weekly, often acting as the lifeline between Friday and Monday when youth do not have access to school meals. Volunteers and donors are the fuel for that lifeline, and as the need continues to grow, there is an urgency to get involved and address the needs.

Find more opportunities like this to volunteer and support your community.

Found My Y is an occasional series of reported stories and personal essays from the people in and around the Y who weave the fabric of our communities. From sharing fun anecdotes of levity to the grand moments when we learn something bigger about ourselves, stories are our history and a gift. Have a story to share, or want to nominate someone for our next installment, e-mail us at with the subject line "Found My Y."   


Category: Impact Newsletter