|BRIEF: On the Front Lines of Hunger across Wyoming|
Thursday, July 02, 2009
In the area served by Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies (WFBR) upwards of 53,000 people live in poverty and struggle to meet their basic food needs; 17,000 of them are children.
WFBR, an affiliate of Feed America, the Nation’s Food Bank Network, has been distributing food and products to agencies serving Wyoming’s needy children, seniors, and families for 20 years from its headquarters in Denver.
To better serve the state, reach more rural areas, and increase support for agencies providing food assistance, WFBR opened a warehouse in Mills (near Casper) in October 2004. From this facility, WFBR delivers food and essential household items to 34 cities and towns across the state every month.
Last year, WFBR distributed 2.5 million pounds of food and essential items in Wyoming. That equals 1.92 million meals, or 5,200 meals each day for our less fortunate neighbors in need of a helping hand.
WFBR works with more than 250 nonprofit hunger-relief programs that provide food and meals for the sick, needy, or ill across the state. From small church pantries to large organizations with national support, WFBR partners with programs to provide food and essential items to Wyoming`s less fortunate individuals. These programs are especially vital during these times of economic hardship.
During this economic downturn, WFBR has been in close contact with its agencies as well as county DFS offices to ascertain the gap between the current level of service provided intended to cover the basic needs of our agencies clientele and the actual level of need across the state.
Hunger in Wyoming is a reality, and that reality is becoming grimmer on a daily basis.
In writing this brief, I re-interviewed nonprofit agencies whose mission and vision include feeding the needy. For ease of organization, the state was divided into quadrants and a cross-section of agencies was chosen to interview.
Across all strata and in all counties, the stories are the same. Agencies are seeing a demonstrable increase of over 50 percent in client applications for assistance. In October of 2008, as the economic downturn was worsening, and agencies throughout Wyoming were beginning to see the tidal effects associated with a recession.
As the economic downturn began, agencies were seeing an increase in request in client application of approximately 35 percent. In the period from October 2008 through March 2009, we have been tracking data associated with the increase of client need. These numbers also include client applications from DFS offices throughout the state.
The Natrona County Department of Family Services states that their caseload for the months of December and January were increased by about 40%. The number of “expedites” was phenomenal, the highest ever. Natrona Co DFS is seeing that those who are receiving unemployment are ineligible for services as they fall just over the income level needed to qualify. The client denial rate has become increasingly higher, 50% of applicants are currently ineligible for services.
In Natrona County, Joshua’s Storehouse has seen clientele numbers explode. Families with anywhere from 2.5 children to 10, with both parents unemployed, are needing food assistance. Oftentimes, these families have already been to DFS, but if one parent is working, they do not qualify for assistance and are on the “cusp.” These folks are barely over the income qualifying guidelines.
Joshua’s Storehouse has seen an increase from serving approximately 300 unduplicated families in March 2008. At the current time, their service numbers hover at about 1,400 unduplicated families monthly. Joshua’s can hardly keep up with the requests for food and assistance, and will find a way to remain open for longer hours to accommodate the increased need.
The Salvation Army Casper branch noted that in one month, the clients served went from over 1,000, to 3,000. As of the current date, they are serving 4000 unduplicated clients. This is a geometric progression; the number of clientele is “doubling and doubling.” From January 1, 2009 to March 25, 2009, the Salvation Army, Casper, has served 5,572 unduplicated clients.
In the Southwest quadrant of the state, the Sweetwater County Food Bank (SWCOFB) has doubled its unduplicated numbers of clients. This food bank serves the five county area in Southwest Wyoming. In February 2008, SWCOFB served 581 unduplicated clients. In February 2009, their unduplicated clients served skyrocketed to 1,065. In the Southwest quadrant, our agencies say that many people have lost jobs, however they are waiting for an upturn in the economy but are not leaving the area.
The Sheridan area has seen increases of upwards of 50% in client population for the months of February and March 2009. Non profits whose mission is feeding the needy have seen a decrease in the food product that is donated and an attendant increase in the number of folks who have been laid off from their jobs. The clients are stating that they are having a hard time making ends meet. In addition, it is reported that while clients do apply for services through DFS, they are not meeting eligibility requirements.
With an increase in the cost of housing and utilities, many have to choose between putting food on the table and paying the most basic of bills.
The communities surrounding Gillette are currently being hit hard. The Council for Community Services in Gillette says that clients are doubling up on housing as more and more people are laid off from their jobs. The soup kitchen is seeing 50-75% more clients daily for lunch. That puts their numbers at about 45-50 daily.
Laramie Salvation Army reported seeing a wide variety of folks coming to the food pantry for assistance. Last winter, their clients numbered approximately 350 unduplicated clients served during the winter months. This winter, 2009, they serve about 750 unduplicated clients.
Our TEFAP distribution site in Wheatland reposts seeing an increase, especially among the elderly population. The elderly are not able to stretch their dollars far enough to cover food costs. This site reports an increase of about 40%.
St Joseph’s in Cheyenne has noted a dramatic upswing in the number of clients coming in for assistance. While they are not seeing a large increase in the elderly population, they are seeing an increase in the trend towards families who have lost jobs or have had hours cut, applying for assistance. In March of 2008, St. Joe’s served 462 clients’ who requested food. During March of 2009, their number of client’s served jumped to 578.
Loaves and Fishes in Powell serves a small community, however they have noted a huge increase in foot traffic, clients coming in to inquire about services and food availability. It was also stated that they are “gearing up for an onslaught,” preparing for summer when children are out of school and will not longer be receiving lunch through the free and reduced lunch program. There have been about 55-60 “new faces” showing up at Loaves and Fishes” during the last month and a half.
*Addressing the needs of children who will be out of school during the summer is a good point and one which needs further attention. Here at WFBR, we will be starting the Totes of Hope_Children’s Backpack program soon. This was funded through a generous donation from the Ellbogen Foundation, and will serve needy children over the weekend, during the school term. However, the number of children we can serve with the allotted funds is only a small fraction of the number of children who are going to bed hungry.
Recently, we have started a grocery reclamation program in partnership with Wal Mart and Albertson’s. Those programs bring in about 2.5 thousand pounds of food monthly, and are distributed at no charge to agency partners. It is wonderful to be able to distribute fresh produce as well as other grocery items, and to see the joy on the faces of those who are in the trenches, fighting hunger on a daily basis.
Director, WFBR 4-1-09