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After Teton County School District canceled its summer meals program, local community partners announce summer meal site, schedule

A school lunch tray, piled high with food, set against a blue backdrop.
Hugh Cook
/
Wyoming Public Media
A lunch of Alfredo, broccoli, breadsticks, and a banana were on the menu when this picture was taken. Disadvantaged students in Jackson Hole would be forced to forego some meals without the help of community partners who raised $85,000 to bridge the gap.

Teton County School District's Summer Meals Program has been canceled due to a decrease in funding as federal poverty levels aren't aligned with the county’s economy. To bridge the gap, a group of community partners raised $85,000 to help feed students who rely upon free meals to keep from going hungry.

The group announced that they will distribute breakfast and lunch from Jackson Elementary School this summer.

Jennifer Jellen, executive director of The Fund for Public Education (one of the nonprofits in the group), said 20 percent of students in the Teton County School District rely upon their schools to eat during the school year.

"Providing meals for kids is one of the single best things we can do to ensure that kids are able to access all of the educational opportunities that we are trying to give them," said Jellen. "Hungry kids can't learn. They can't really be fully invested and involved in their education."

Teton County School District saw the number of Title 1 schools—which receive extra state and federal funding to help disadvantaged students meet the demands of acquiring an education—fall from three to one in the past five years. This has taken away federal money from these schools and led to the cancellation of the summer meal program.

The shift in demographics is a product of the complex economy in Jackson Hole. The median home value there was $921,100 in 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While the median household income was $101,477, per capita income was only $56,496. Yet the poverty rate is 5.3 percent.

Those circumstances create a perfect storm, in which many of those low-income families who find a way to stay there fall through the cracks.

"We have a lot of kids in need," Jellen said. "In Teton County, in particular, our wages are higher than average. So very few of our families qualify for the federal free and reduced program that runs during the school year. There are 48 homeless students in the district right now."

The Community Foundation, Hole Food Rescue, One22 Resource Center, the Fund for Public Education, and Teton County School District contributed to the project, which will provide at least 7,000 lunches and 3,000 grab and go breakfasts throughout the summer.

The partners will serve meals, no questions asked, Monday through Friday from 8 am to 12 pm. The program runs from June 18 to August 25, but they will be closed July 4th to observe the holiday.

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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