Feeding Wyoming: Program fights holiday hunger and beyond
With the holidays fast approaching, it’s easy to forget not everyone has the resources for a big holiday celebration or even a nice meal. In fact, according to Wyoming’s First Lady Jennie Gordon, food insecurity affects 86,000 people across the state of Wyoming, nearly 23,500 of which are children.
During the Wyoming Natural Resource Rendezvous Convention and Trade Show in Casper Dec. 5-8, Gordon discussed work being done by the Wyoming Hunger Initiative to fight local food insecurity and reminded attendees of several different programs available for those who struggle with hunger or those who may like to donate to the cause this holiday season and beyond.
Gordon explained the Wyoming Hunger Initiative was started three years ago in October of 2019 after learning about a friend in Sheridan County who struggled with food insecurity. She immediately got to work looking for a solution.
“First of all, I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. There are people who have been working on this for years, and to have someone come in and tell them how to do what they’ve been doing for a long time wasn’t going to fly,” she said. “We did know, however, we wanted to be able to help people struggling with food insecurity, create networks, find more resources, share those resources and be available in all 23 Wyoming counties.”
Gordon further explained Wyoming Hunger Initiative is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and is housed under the Wyoming Governor’s Residence Foundation.
“Pretty early on, we learned having boots on the ground was going to make this program work,” Gordon continued. “We found six champions throughout the state to gather representatives from food pantries, boys and girls clubs, after-school programs, church groups, etc., offer them access to our many programs under the Wyoming Hunger Initiative and ask them about other ways we might be able to help.”
Using Wyoming solutions
Gordon noted when she first started the initiative, she wanted to fight Wyoming hunger using Wyoming-based solutions. This brought about programs such as Food from the Farm and Ranch Program, Fair to Fork Program, Food from the Field Program and the Wyoming Angel Account, among many others.
“Our Food from the Farm and Ranch Program is one I really love because of our partnerships with all of you here today, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the University of Wyoming (UW),” said Gordon. “The program is made up of two parts – livestock and fruits and vegetables.”
She noted around 128 animals, or 60,000 pounds of meat, and 21,000 pounds of produce were donated through the program this past year.
Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H members also have a chance to give back to their communities through the Wyoming Hunger Initiative’s Fair to Fork Program. According to Gordon, this program buys secondary FFA and 4-H animals using money donated from the Hughes Charitable Foundation, then donates the meat to the individuals’ charity of choice.
This year the program paid for 14 hogs from FFA and 4-H members across the state of Wyoming.
Another donation program through the First Lady’s initiative is the Food from the Field Program in which sportsmen can donate wild game.
“Many people from Wyoming and out of state enjoy hunting here. It doesn’t matter to us if they have two tags or they are just in it for the head. Through our Food from the Field Program, we ask hunters to take their kill to one of the processors we are affiliated with. We pay for processing and get the meat into the food bank system,” Gordon explained.
She noted last year the program brought in over 13,000 pounds of donated meat, and they are expecting an even higher number this year.
“We do have a few holes in the state when it comes to affiliated processors, so if anyone knows processors in the areas we don’t have covered, please send them our way,” she added.
In addition to their farm-to-plate donation programs, the Wyoming Hunger Initiative is also fighting food insecurity issues in schools through the Wyoming Angel Account.
“I was shocked to find out Wyoming has over $150,000 dollars in unpaid school lunch debt. So, together with the help of all of the credit unions in the state and Dan Starks of the National Museum of Military Vehicles, we paid off over $156,000 in school lunch debt,” Gordon stated.
Today, the program has Wyoming Angel Accounts set up in schools across the state to help students who can’t pay for a hot meal.
Additionally, any organization within the state whose mission aligns with the mission of the Wyoming Hunger Initiative is eligible for infrastructure grants.
“To date, we have been able to get about $345,000 into the hands of those working in this space. The infrastructure grants provide freezers, shelving or other bigger ticket items they maybe couldn’t afford because they were more interested in getting food out to people in their area,” Gordon said.
Throughout the year, Wyoming Hunger Initiative also hosts a multitude of campaigns. These include the Cheyenne Frontier Days Stomp Out Hunger Program and the Tackle Hunger Program, which happens during the first UW football game of the season.
“We have done the Tackle Hunger Program for two years now, and we work with Blue Cross Blue Shield, who sponsors the game,” said Gordon. “During this time, we did a statewide food drive, which brought in 20,000 pounds of donated food.”
In the midst of the holiday season, Gordon also noted the Wyoming Hunger Initiative has several holiday campaigns, including one during Thanksgiving and another at Christmas.
“During the holidays, it is so wonderful to go home, spend time with family and host a big meal, but we often forget there are people who are not able to do the same,” she stated. “We have several programs in place to help out during the holidays, including the Shop with a Cop Program where law enforcement officers identify a child in need and take them Christmas shopping for gifts and food for the family.”
Gordon further explained food banks see their lowest amounts of donations following the holidays, so Wyoming Hunger Initiative starts their Hearts for Hunger Program at the beginning of the new year.
“For every five dollars, Wyoming Hunger Initiative will display a heart with the individuals name on it, and it will be hung in the capital. We have been able to raise $20,000 in five-dollar increments. It’s incredible what we can do in Wyoming when we come together toward a shared goal,” Gordon concluded.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.