There was a smile behind Veronica Acurero’s mask Thursday, March 4, as she helped hand out 45 bags of food to those in need at the Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA.

A conversation the 12-year-old overheard helped bring the Every Meal food distribution site to Superior.

Food is available from 4-8 p.m. every Thursday in the YMCA lobby, with a drive-thru option in the parking lot from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Each household receives two bags of staples rice, pasta, canned fruit, canned chicken and tuna and beans. There are no income or residency requirements. YMCA Child Care Director Kim Martin received a call from someone who lives in Duluth Thursday asking about the food. She encouraged the person to come get some.

Recipients will be asked one question: Which bags do you want? Every Meal offers five different meal bags tailored for preferences, including one targeted toward Hispanic tastes, one containing East Asian foods and one that is pork-free. People who received the food have been happy with the options, officials said.

Veronica Acurero, 12, hands out free meal bags at the Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA Thursday, March 4. The Superior girl was instrumental in launching an Every Meal food distribution site at the YMCA.  (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)
Veronica Acurero, 12, hands out free meal bags at the Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA Thursday, March 4. The Superior girl was instrumental in launching an Every Meal food distribution site at the YMCA. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)

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“That’s awesome that somebody actually thought about that, because usually it’s just one bag, take it or leave it,” Acurero said. “Having the different bags that you can have to choose from I think is incredible.”

Based out of Roseville, Minnesota, the nonprofit organization Every Meal began in 2010 as a weekend food program for students at Sheridan Elementary School in Minneapolis. It has grown to encompass more than 300 locations serving over 10,000 children. The YMCA is part of its community-targeted program, launched to help families struggling with food insecurity during the pandemic. Most of the Every Meal sites are in the Twin Cities area.

“We are ground level here in Superior,” Martin said. “We will feed however many people show up.”

The YMCA received 660 bags of food in its first shipment, which will be refilled as needed. Martin and Chief Executive Officer Chris Stenberg are already looking at ways to bring food to additional sites in the community so transportation won’t be a barrier. Stamping out child hunger is one of the national YMCA initiatives, Martin said, but they weren’t able to find a source.

“This literally fell into our laps,” she said, thanks to Acurero.

The Superior girl overheard her father talking to one of his friends about the program around Christmas time. The friend was interested in expanding it to the Twin Ports area. Acurero, a seventh grader at Superior Middle School, volunteered to find a spot.

“I thought that was a great idea,” she said. “So I started contacting everybody that I knew.”

Feeding people in need is something the middle schooler is passionate about. In fourth grade at Northern Lights Elementary School, she and classmate Callie Peterson held a bake sale to raise money to feed people in Venezuela. The experience helped others, and empowered Acurero.

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When she contacted the YMCA, Stenberg and Martin were quick to partner with Every Meal to provide a safe pickup site. Within two months, it was operational. Acurero said she was extremely grateful for everyone who helped bring the program to Superior. She handed out food at the initial distribution Feb. 27 and plans to continue volunteering. To date, the program has given out 126 meal bags.

“Helping a person is one of my favorite things to do,” Acurero said. “So giving out food is just a joy for me and I’m just really glad I could do it.”

The YMCA is located at 9 N. 21st. St., Superior. Those who would like more information or who wish to volunteer should contact Martin at kmartin@superiorymca.org, 715-392-5611, ext. 101.