Men's Health (USA)

GYMS HELP FEED IT?

- BY A. C. SHILTON AND PAUL KITA

Lines at food banks are long. Enrollment in food-assistance programs is up. Kids aren’t eating the good food they require. Yet there’s a team of heroes aiding those in need: your friendly neighborho­od fitness communitie­s.

I44,000 pounds of lettuce.

There it was, a literal truckload of leafy greens, sitting in a semi parked up the street from the medical office where Dannette Wheeler worked in Fentress County, Tennessee. After Wheeler approached them, the truckers explained their plight. That day, March 25, 2020, the coronaviru­s was spreading across the country. The truckers were supposed to deliver the lettuce to businesses and restaurant­s throughout middle Tennessee, but those places wouldn’t take it. Twenty-two tons of lettuce—just sitting there.

So Wheeler took out her phone to shoot a quick video. Her nerves rattled her. The first two takes didn’t cut it. In the third, however, she stands confidentl­y in the back of the trailer, giant crates of lettuce all around her. Her message is clear: Come get what you can use. Bring a bag and tell a friend. “Stay healthy, Fentress County,” she says at the end of the message.

Her closing statement was a shout-out to a Facebook group of the same name, founded by her coaches, Adam and Amanda Wood, two days earlier. Two days prior to that, the Woods closed their gym, New Horizon Athletics, due to COVID-19. In creating Stay Healthy Fentress County, the Woods wanted to build a hub for the community to share health informatio­n, offer support to one another, and stay connected as calls for self-isolation spread.

No one knew if the idea would work. This was a totally different kind of

enrollment increased by 16 percent from March to April this year. The U. S. Census Bureau reported at the end of May that 32 percent of adults said they lacked the nutrition they needed. Seventeen percent of young children aren’t getting enough to eat, according to an April survey by the research firm the Brookings Institutio­n. That rate is triple what it was at the peak of the Great Recession.

If all this is enough to make you feel helpless, or hopeless, that’s where Dannette Wheeler was when she shot her DIY PSA for free lettuce.

Wheeler’s first inclinatio­n when she spotted the truck was to call her coaches and have them post something. Instead, the Woods had a better idea. “I told her she should make a video and post it to the group,” Adam Wood says. The “group” was Stay Healthy Fentress County, designed to preserve the community of New Horizon Athletics and help the surroundin­g neighborho­ods.

Wheeler’s first reaction was “No way.” The idea of putting herself out there was a nonstarter. But then she realized this was the old Dannette talking. She thought about how, at the end of every WOD, New Horizon Athletics members huddle up and promise to “be the light we wish to see in our communitie­s.”

A few hours after she posted her video to Stay Healthy Fentress County, it had 50 shares. Soon people started showing up and taking the lettuce home. Only a few of them were members of New Horizon, and many weren’t even members of Stay Healthy Fentress County. The ripples extended to friends of friends and families of families. And, hours later, the lettuce was gone—all of it.

On May 4, the Woods reopened New Horizon Athletics with strict social-distancing rules in place. Wheeler returned. And she did so because New Horizon gave her more than her confidence back; it gave her a community of people she knew could help her improve her life and the lives of others—because they’d already proven they could.

In partnershi­p with Feeding America,

and Hearst Magazines are committed to putting an end to hunger. To help food banks feed families in need, please donate at

to Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote those words in 1994 to describe the fate of the “poor bastards” born at the turn of this century, but it hasn’t been quite so bad. Consider the Americans born in the year 2000, the first natives of the brand-new millennium, who emerged screaming into a future of post-everything possibilit­y, a time of budget surpluses and “the end of history” and this crazy newish thing called the Internet that was gonna change everything. Some of those Americans would take their first steps as the Twin Towers came tumbling down. Some would play their first Little League game with a mother fighting in Iraq. Some would star in their first school play with a dad in Afghanista­n. They were in middle school during the Great Recession and documented puberty on Instagram and drove their first car in Grand Theft Auto. They have no memory of a world without cell phones or selfies, climate change or school shootings, and they have no sense of America not at war with others or with itself. It hasn’t been all bad—remember Pokémon Go?—nor has it been all good (obviously). It has simply been a lot, and as these first natives of the brand-new millennium turn 20, that strange way station between childhood and adulthood, it’s only fitting to take stock of where they’ve been and where they’re going.

few (and proud) Gen Z conservati­ves. More typical are the likes of

(page 88), (page 96), and (page 84), social activists who question the status quo and seek solutions for issues that their government has long been unable to solve. Different politics, similar passions, proving that building one’s identity isn’t just a matter of what one believes—it’s what one does with those beliefs.

These 20-year-olds also represent a group who have spent much of their lives carrying around supercompu­ters with high-definition cameras in their pockets 24/7 without any sense of novelty. It’s normal to meme on behalf of some of the world’s most powerful men, as (page 79) did for Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Yang. It’s normal to win more than $1 million playing an online video game in front of a 12,000-person crowd, as

(page 98) did. It’s normal to have informed conversati­ons about gender expression with strangers over Instagram, as the former high school wrestler (page 78) does with his thousands of followers. To older generation­s, these massive technologi­cal upheavals and sociocultu­ral transition­s can feel jarring. But to the 20-year-olds, it’s the same as it ever was. As we make our way through a year of once-in-a-lifetime events, it’s tempting to look ahead 20 years and imagine marveling at—and perhaps patronizin­g—a young person who didn’t live through a global pandemic or who has never considered that “Black Lives Matter” was once a controvers­ial statement. Each new generation takes the strengths and weaknesses of previous generation­s, inheriting both the problems and the progress born of their parents’ selfishnes­s and sacrifice and remixing them into something completely new and original. It’s way too soon to say what these 20-year-olds will one day gift the generation after them, but they’re already forcing the rest of us to rethink how the world works, what the future holds, how we live—and who we even are.

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