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Jackson Hole community partners raise $85,000 for summer lunch program

A group of students in the lunchroom. There are trophy cases and banners in the background.
David Dudley
Wyoming Public Media
Students practice guitar after lunch period at Prairie View Community School, in Chugwater, Wyoming.

Updated May 15: An earlier version of this story said that Munger Mountain Elementary School would be the last in the Teton County School District to participate in the Summer Lunch Program. Munger Mountain will not participate in the Summer Lunch Program, which has been cancelled. The community partners will distribute breakfast and lunch at Jackson Elementary School, beginning in mid-June.

Due to fluctuating poverty levels, Summer Lunch Programs across Teton County School District have been canceled.

Munger Mountain Elementary School is the last in the district that will participate in the Summer Lunch Program. However, it's located ten miles south of downtown Jackson, making it inaccessible to many students who may benefit from those services.

In response, Colby Mitchell, of the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, said that a group of community partners has raised $85,000 to bridge the gap. The groups are seeking a centrally located facility from which to distribute 7,000 lunches and 3,000 grab-and-go style breakfasts this summer.

"Food insecurity is a pretty intractable challenge," said Mitchell. "That's why I'm so grateful for the folks over at One22 Resource Center and Hole Food Rescue for the great work that they do. They're really the heroes in this challenge."

Hole Food Rescue (HFR) saves food deemed “unsuitable for sale” due to imperfections or approaching expiration dates, then redistributes it to families in need. Hannah Cooley, executive director of HFR, said that her organization is committed to ensuring that children in Teton County have access to healthy meals throughout the summer.

One22 Resource Center provides financial assistance for food, housing and child care. Sharel Lund, One22's executive director, said in a statement shared with Wyoming Public Media that her organization is ready to rise to the challenge when unforeseen crises happen to the most vulnerable members in the community.

“That's what we're here for," she added. "We look forward to working together with Hole Food Rescue, Teton County School District, and the Community Foundation on this free breakfast and lunch project so that all kids have access to the food they need to stay healthy and strong this summer.”

Mitchell said he's proud of the way the community has come together to help students who may otherwise go hungry.

"Different communities experience these challenges in different ways, and therefore need different solutions," said Mitchell. "And I think we were well positioned to tailor our approach to this challenge, based on the needs of our community."

Studies show that free lunch programs help to improve students' health, learning and economic prospects. Yet the number of students who have access to these programs fell by three million between July 2021 and 2022, according to a report by the Food Research and Action Center.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder spoke against a USDA program designed to feed disadvantaged youth during the summer months, which Wyoming has opted out of. After accusing the Biden administration of "weaponizing summer school lunch programs," Degenfelder added, "We will combat childhood hunger the Wyoming way."

The superintendent's office did not respond to Wyoming Public Radio's interview requests.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

David Dudley is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, WyoFile, and the Wyoming Truth, among many others. David was a Guggenheim Crime in America Fellow at John Jay College from 2020-2023. During the past 10 years, David has covered city and state government, business, economics and public safety beats for various publications. He lives in Cheyenne with his family.
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