Islands YMCA – How to Donate for a Healthy Community

Putting Food Equity Advocacy in Action

(SAVANNAH, GA) The YMCA of Coastal Georgia, in partnership with Healthy Savannah, is piloting a new program to encourage food pantry donations that help put food equity advocacy into action.

The program called SWAP (Supporting Wellness at Pantries) is being introduced at the Islands YMCA to advocate stocking the pantry with healthy items, provide clients with health resources, and implement healthy nudges.

“This is important because more than half of the families who visit food banks have a household member with high-blood pressure, and more with type II diabetes,” said Laura Schmarkey, association outreach director, YMCA of Coastal Georgia. “Chronic illnesses can also be prevented, managed, and reversed through the foods that we eat.”

Using a “Stoplight Nutrition Ranking System,” the program is designed to help clients make healthy food choices and prevent or manage chronic disease. It also creates an easy way to categorize the food that is offered at food pantries to help clients identify healthier choices and influence the types of food donated to the pantry.

“We are committed to breaking barriers to healthy eating with our partners at the YMCA and everyone who seeks to ensure food equity in Savannah,” said Paula Kreissler, Healthy Savannah executive director. “We know that food insecurity leads to poor health, and poor health increases the risk of food insecurity. By providing access to healthy food sources, food pantries can help clients maintain healthy habits, eat nutritious meals and manage chronic illnesses.”

Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia also recently were awarded a second five-year Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant from the CDC, with $5.1 million in funding to being deployed over a five-year period across the Savannah area’s low-wealth neighborhoods in areas of nutrition, physical activity and the reduction of chronic diseases.

The Islands YMCA Food Pantry is located at 66 Johnny Mercer Blvd, Savannah, GA, 31410, and is open every third Thursday from 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. For more information and to donate, call (912) 897-1194 or visit the Facebook page at

A video from the developers of the SWAP program is available at:

For more information about the Islands YMCA SWAP pilot program, contact Laura Schmarkey at or 912-433-0055.

ABOUT THE YMCA OF COASTAL GEORGIA/HEALTHY SAVANNAH GRANT FOR RACIAL AND ETHNIC APPROACHES TO COMMUNITY HEALTH: In September 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded a second grant called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) to Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia. $5.1 million in funding is being deployed over a five-year period to be utilized in an “upstream” approach to foster sustainable health equity among racial and ethnic minority populations in low-wealth neighborhoods in areas of nutrition, physical activity and the reduction of chronic diseases. The renewed funding enables work to continue which began under the initial, five-year, $3.4 million REACH grant awarded in 2018, and a supplemental grant awarded in 2021 to increase awareness and acceptance of COVID-19 and flu adult immunizations. Working with more than 200 community partners and organizations, the Savannah/Chatham County project team’s specific goals in implementing the new five-year grant include fostering physical activity by creating greater access to safe places to walk, run, bike and play; elevating the health and wellness of the community through policy, systems, and environmental change; and providing education and awareness regarding adult immunizations, especially as they relate to health disparities in chronic conditions of hypertension, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The administrators will also continue to foster stronger connections between people and the healthcare providers who serve them by supporting awareness and use of the HERO Help Me database. In July 2022, Healthy Savannah received the CDC’s 2022 REACH Lark Galloway-Gilliam Award for Advancing Health Equity Challenge. The award recognizes extraordinary individuals and entities whose work has contributed to advancing health equity.

Marjorie Young
Carriage Trade Public Relations® Inc.

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