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A summer food program is providing food support to students on summer break

Second-grader Conor Jones poses with a Totes of Hope bag recently at Beitel Elementary School in Laramie.
Food Bank of Wyoming
Second-grader Conor Jones poses with a Totes of Hope bag recently at Beitel Elementary School in Laramie.

The Food Bank of Wyoming is a Casper-based non-profit providing food for students. This summer they are providing bags of food for more than 1,600 kids and their families each week at numerous locations statewide. Their Totes of Hope program helps provide it at no cost to kids, families, or the organizations that partner with them to distribute food.

“School's out for summer, which means summer fun, but for a lot of families [who are food insecure], there can be some worry with it,” said Rachel Bailey, executive director of the Food Bank of Wyoming. “About one in eight children in Wyoming face hunger, and a lot of times in rural areas have more of a challenge with this. We know that a lot of families rely on school meals to help feed their children for both breakfast and lunch. So sometimes, like when school comes to an end, there is some concern for parents about how they are going to feed their kids during the summertime.”

The Totes of Hope program provides nutritious, shelf-sustainable, and fresh food to make about seven household meals each week. Items include fresh produce, protein-based food like pork or chicken, and pasta. Bailey added there are about 19 locations statewide where the program partners with local groups and organizations to get it to those who need it. Mobile pantries circulate throughout the state and provide food to those in need once per month as well. This equates to enough food to feed about 60,000 Wyoming families per year.

“We work with different community partners and school districts to provide a bag of nutritious food to kids, [and] a lot of times there's four or five meals in that bag, along with snacks, and those are distributed throughout the school year,” she said. “We want to make sure that the Totes of Hope program that we have in communities sort of continues.”

The need for food has increased over the past year. Bailey attributes this to several factors, including families who haven’t previously needed food assistance.

“With inflation, with high fuel prices, with wages not keeping up with those two things, there have been a lot more families in Wyoming that have accessed food programs probably for the first time,” she said. “We are seeing higher numbers now than we did pre-COVID, and some of the numbers that pantries are experiencing are similar to this same as during COVID. So, the need in Wyoming right now is very high.”

The Food Bank of Wyoming is the largest distributor of food in the state and services all 23 counties. They distribute to soup kitchens, food pantries, senior centers, totes programs, and backpack food programs. They rely on donations and volunteers in communities to help with their mission of feeding those in need. They also receive food donations from large manufacturers and retailers and purchase it from larger food bank networks at lower cost than at wholesale or from grocery stores.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.

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