As the first Black woman mayor of Mount Vernon, Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard is an ideal local figure to highlight during Black History Month.
“It is absolutely an honor and a privilege to be able to serve the city of Mount Vernon from this seat and to work with other elected leaders to craft policy and provide services to put our community back on the right track,” said Mayor Patterson-Howard.
For this blog, however, we wanted to tap into a different part of her professional past: her extensive experience leading a Feeding Westchester community partner.
She had a brief tenure as the Executive Director for the Mount Vernon, New York, Family YMCA. But most of her time as a community feeding partner was spent at the YMCA Yonkers, where she stayed for 12 years. Mayor Patterson-Howard was successful in helping to innovate the organization to better serve its community with a focus on nutrition.
Feeding Westchester’s mission is to nourish our neighbors in the fight against hunger; Mayor Patterson-Howard knows all too well that we can’t nourish people without nutritious foods.
“The YMCA Yonkers under my leadership became very committed to eradicating health disparities in poor communities and communities of color,” said Mayor Patterson-Howard. “We have to keep the health of our community front and center.”
To address this issue, Mayor Patterson-Howard first looked toward our youth. From providing healthy snacks to kids attending after-school programs, to developing summer camp feeding programs and offering full, family-style meals to students, Mayor Patterson-Howard realized that an individual’s health was affected not only by access to food, but also by the quality of food a person can afford, as well as the quality of time spent around eating meals.
“When you have parents who are working, oftentimes the family dinner table is something that doesn’t happen much anymore. People are on the run. For parents who work a second job, their kids might eat in their room or in front of the T.V.,” said Mayor Patterson-Howard. “Providing family-style meals was great.”
While working at the Yonkers YMCA, Mayor Patterson-Howard received The Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) federal grant. Utilizing the grant, the Yonkers YMCA had four main focuses: increasing access to healthy foods, increasing access to healthy physical activity, expanding access to physical and mental health services, and reducing neighborhood violence.
A notable and incredible change that came out of these efforts involved helping to launch community gardens and co-sponsoring the building and staffing of these gardens.
“Not only did we want the community to eat, but we also wanted to make sure that the community had access to healthy foods, knew how to cook them, and incorporate them into their diets in a way that tasted good,” said Mayor Patterson-Howard.
As the Yonkers YMCA hunger-relief efforts grew, they expanded their offerings to include senior feeding programs, brunches, and health workshops. Mayor Patterson-Howard helped to establish the Yonkers YMCA as an integral hub in the city, working alongside 20 other organizations to maximize their impact.
At Feeding Westchester, we envision a community where all people have access to the food they need today, and the fundamental resources to build a better tomorrow. Mayor Patterson-Howard’s impact at the Yonkers YMCA, like so any of our amazing partners and meal programs, is an integral element to bringing that vision to life.
“It’s not just hunger. It’s health,” said Mayor Patterson-Howard.
Our purpose is to feed, empower, and unite our community. Our mission, to nourish our neighbors in the fight against hunger. But, the distribution of this food is only possible because of your support.
To continue to support Feeding Westchester, we encourage you to donate here. To find help, click here.