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Wyoming food pantries experiencing heightened need over last 18 months; families state what the help means to them

Close to 10% of Laramie County residents are food insecure. Many are seeking assistance from local food shelters such as St. Joseph's Food Pantry in Cheyenne.

Volunteers help stock, organize and distribute food Wednesday, March 20 at St. Joseph's Food Pantry in Cheyenne. (Jared Gendron/Cap City News)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Over the past several months, U.S. officials and economic researchers have assured people that the economy is running strong. However, many residents disagree, and they’re feeling it with their stomachs.

Food insecurity is a public health and economic issue that persists nationwide. According to nonprofit organization Feeding America, 44 million U.S. residents are food insecure, including one in five children. In Wyoming, 10.6% of residents are food insecure as of 2021, according to the most recent data available from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap online database. In Laramie County, the rate is slightly lower at 9.7%.

Like many other places, food insecurity has crept into Laramie County. The issue has worsened in many Wyoming communities, according to Rachel Bailey, executive director of Food Bank of Wyoming. In 2023, her organization distributed 11 million pounds of food to its 150 hunger relief partners statewide. The amount of food represents a 9% increase in food distribution compared to 2022.

“We know more people are in need and are seeking assistance,” Bailey told Cap City News.

A box of food containing meats, nonperishables and produce is shown Wednesday, March 20 at St. Joseph’s Food Pantry in Cheyenne. (Jared Gendron/Cap City News)

For some partners across Wyoming, need has increased by anywhere from 50% to 100% over the last 18 months, Bailey said. She cites several reasons for this change, including rising food costs, inflation and the end of COVID-era benefits such as expanded eligibility for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Although the nation’s inflation rate is nowhere near the highs it experienced in 2022, the average American is currently spending over 11% of their income on food — the highest in 30 years — according to a February report from the Wall Street Journal.

Food assistance in Laramie County

In 2023, the Food Bank of Wyoming distributed more than 1 million pounds of food to St. Joseph’s Food Pantry in Cheyenne, one of the state food bank’s largest partners. Eva Estorga, director of Cheyenne’s St. Joseph’s Food Pantry, told Cap City News that her facility has been serving more new clients over the past year, many of whom are younger residents.

St. Joseph’s Food Pantry in Cheyenne feeds 550–600 families in Laramie County weekly, Estorga said. Families can take home boxes of goods once per week, and the amount of food the pantry provides is dependent on family size. Around 70–80 volunteers work a shift weekly to greet families, organize food and carry meals into vehicles.

Tim Bolin, left, and Norm Morris load food into a family’s vehicle Wednesday, March 20 at St. Joseph’s Food Pantry in Cheyenne. (Jared Gendron/Cap City News)

To some residents, Cheyenne’s food pantry has made all the difference.

“With the cost of living and cost of food, it’s helped tremendously,” said Heather, whom Cap City News is identifying by first name only. Heather is a Cheyenne resident and has been visiting St. Joseph’s for over three years. She supports her mother and son, both of whom are disabled.

“Every little bit helps,” she said.

Another resident, Mary, said she usually visits the facility every two weeks. Times have been tough since the pandemic, she said.

“[The food pantry] means a lot because I only work part time,” Mary said.

St. Joseph’s Food Pantry’s distribution facility is pictured Wednesday, March 20 in Cheyenne. (Jared Gendron/Cap City News)

A third resident, Crystal, stopped by St. Joseph’s on Wednesday morning. It was her first time receiving food from the pantry.

“We’re just getting a little help for a little while,” Crystal said. She said her food stamps don’t fully cover her grocery bill. She also recently bought a home, so money has been tight.

How you can help

St. Joseph’s has maintained steady support from community partners, Estorga said. It receives regular donations from Cheyenne businesses like Sam’s Club, Big Lots, Chick-Fil-A and Panera Bread.

Community members can help combat food insecurity via financial support. The Food Bank of Wyoming creates three meals for every $1 it receives, Bailey said. Donations can be made at the organization’s website here.

Volunteering is another way residents can help out. Carolyn Morris and her husband, Norm, have been volunteering at St. Joseph’s for the past year and a half. The Morrises work for two hours Wednesday mornings, helping to greet patrons and load boxes of food into their vehicles. Carolyn said the work has been a great way to help people and be helpful to others.

St. Joseph’s Food Pantry, 206 Van Lennen Ave., is open to residents from 10 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. Monday–Thursday.