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A nonprofit food distribution program in Campbell County has received a grant to meet increased need

Edible Prairie Project

The Edible Prairie Project (EPP) is a nonprofit food distribution program that provides food for those in need in Campbell County while helping support small and mid-scale food and agricultural processing operations. They also work to improve the affordability and accessibility of high quality and nutritious foods for county residents.

Unlike traditional food pantries or social service providers that often distribute from a centralized facility or sometimes door-to-door, EPP stocks non-perishable items in refurbished newspaper stands. Kind of like those free library stands that have popped up all over the country as well. There are currently seven pantries. They're in three parks, a church, the local Salvation Army, and the Council of Community Services in Gillette. An additional unit also serves Wright.

EPP launched in 2018 and funds its operations primarily through individual donations. A recent $1,000 grant from the Gillette Elks Lodge is helping to provide a needed boost during a time when there is record demand for their services.

“It was kind of a surprise to us,” said Erin Galloway, Executive Director of the EPP, of receiving the grant. “It'll help keep our free little pantry stocked throughout the upcoming winter months. We're really finding that because inflation and rising grocery prices are really becoming a burden to families that our free little pantries are being used and utilized even more and we're working to get, we should be adding two new locations to our little pantry network here in the upcoming months so that we can have a larger distribution in Gillette and in Campbell County.”

The increased need for food has the EPP stocking their distribution pantries twice to three times a week to keep up, a sizable increase since this time last year. Due to the pantries being spread out, EPP doesn’t know how many people or families are taking the food, only how much they put into them. But there’s been a noticeable uptick in what’s being taken compared to more normal periods when the pantries only have to be restocked about once a week. Winter, and the holiday season more specifically, are periods of the year where demand generally increases.

“Right now, we're just seeing demand at a really, really high [rate], probably higher than we've ever seen it,” Galloway said. “We [are] consistently stocking them two or three times a week and they are very empty in between stockings, so they're definitely being utilized, and we're going through our pantry or our food that we purchased faster than we thought we would.”

Edible Prairie Project

Currently, they’re planning to grow their presence in the community by placing two more repurposed newspaper stands in Gillette next month.

“We do have more newspaper dispensers that have been donated from the Rapid City [South Dakota] Journal and our local, the Gillette College welding class is actually going to do some repairs and like put a shelf in for us which is very handy, and then we'll have them painted,” she said. “[The] Boys and Girls Club has some to paint, we had a local artist paint some, girl scouts have painted one, so we just reach out to other community partners and have them decorate them or paint them, so they look nice and then they go to the city of Gillette parks department, and then they install them in the parks.”

So far, EPP’s finances have been able to cover the amount of food that’s needed to meet the increased demand. They don’t use any other pantry and food bank programs but rather go online and try to order things in bulk.

Some of the foods that have consistently proven popular include macaroni and cheese and pancake mix, which Galloway attributes as them being easy to make with minimal ingredients. Protein bars, instant mashed potatoes, and powdered soup instead of canned soup are some of the items that are being stocked in the pantries currently in addition to the more traditional favorites.

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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