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The Food Bank of Wyoming continues to innovative to address hunger going into the new year

A group of people unloads a pallet of potatoes.
Food Bank of Wyoming
Volunteers help distribute food at a mobile pantry in Moorcraft.

2023 wasn’t an easy year to get food on the table for many in Wyoming – supply chain issues, inflation, an end to COVID-era benefits, and weather-related road closures all made it more difficult for people to get the food they needed for themselves and their families.

But those challenges didn’t deter the Food Bank of Wyoming in 2023 – and they aren’t stopping. They are continuing to find innovative ways to address food insecurity throughout the state in 2024.

A 2021 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) household food security study found that 11.2 percent of all Wyomingites suffer from food insecurity. Rachel Bailey, the executive director of the Food Bank, said the organization has seen a significant increase in need on the ground that seems to go beyond that statistic.

“We feel that may be anecdotal at this point, just from the level of need and the increase in asks from our partners for additional food this year,” she said.

According to the organization’s recent Impact Report, the Food Bank served nearly eight percent of the state’s population and distributed nearly 10 million pounds of food in the 2023 fiscal year. That translates to eight million meals total, or roughly 22,000 meals every day.

Jill Stillwagon, the Director of Development at the Food Bank, said about a third of that total poundage was fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We really strive to provide our neighbors facing food insecurity a well-balanced plate and fresh produce is a big part of that,” she said.

In order to meet that goal, the Food Bank is purchasing more produce than they have in past years. They also hired their first food-sourcing manager to maximize their food rescue programs, which take nearly-expired food from retail stores like Albertsons or Safeway and distribute them directly to local Hunger Relief partners and communities.

Going into 2024, the Food Bank will continue experimenting with its new FRESH Express Route, which launched as a pilot program in October 2023. Stillwagon said the new program exclusively picks up and delivers fresh produce to more than fifty partners throughout the western half of the state.

“That’s another really incredible way of injecting more healthy, nutritious food into communities and then onto people's plates,” she said.

The Food Bank also received a grant from the USDA in 2023, which allows the organization to purchase produce and protein directly from local and regional producers. Executive director Bailey said the grant is a big opportunity to create more partnerships and expand economic opportunities for producers.

The Food Bank currently supports nineteen monthly mobile pantries, two of which are in Arapahoe and Fort Washakie on the Wind River Reservation and serve about 600 households.

“We really try to focus on culturally relevant or culturally familiar foods. We did a survey a couple of years ago about food preferences, we try to have that food in those mobile pantries,” Bailey said.

The organization also recently partnered with the Shoshone & Arapaho Fish and Game, who harvested local wild game that the Food Bank then processed and distributed through the mobile pantries.

“Not all of the families have hunters in their families, so it was really neat to be able to help distribute that meat,” she said.

Looking ahead, the organization plans to keep working with tribal partners and community members to try and establish brick-and-mortar pantries on the Wind River Reservation.

“We've been doing research and talking to a lot of people, and the communities have been asking for this for a long time. We're really excited to see it starting to come to fruition,” Bailey said.

For Bailey, one of the big focuses for the Food Bank in the new year is strengthening partnerships with communities and organizations that are helping to address food insecurity across Wyoming.

“There's a lot of incredible work that is happening out there. We want to be the best partner we can be and support what the needs are across the state,” she said.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.

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