Hunger in Wyoming

– [Speaker] Your support
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hunger in Wyoming the numbers are staggering. 70 thousand Wyomingites
aren’t entirely sure where all their food is
gonna come from this week. We visit with First
Lady, Jennie Gordon, on the First Ladies
“Wyoming Hunger Initiative”. And also with Jamie Purcell,
the Executive Director of the “Food for
Thought” project and the great work that
her organization does. Hunger in Wyoming, next
on Wyoming Chronicle. (dramatic orchestral music) – [Speaker] Funding for
this program was provided by the members of the
Wyoming PBS Foundation. Thank you for your support. (haunting instrumental music) – I’m Jennie Gordon. Over 71 thousand of our
neighbors in Wyoming struggle with food insecurity. About 23 thousand
of them are kids. Nearly enough to fill
War Memorial Stadium. That isn’t okay with me. (dramatic instrumental music) Wyoming Hunger Initiative will
work with school districts, communities and organizations
across the state to combat this challenge. I hope you’ll join
me, with your time, your generosity and your
innovative thinking. No child in Wyoming
should ever go hungry. Childhood hunger is a
problem that can be solved, together. (haunting instrumental music) – And as we continue on
Wyoming Chronicle today, it’s our privilege to be joined by the First Lady of the State
of Wyoming, Jennie Gordon. Mrs. Gordon welcome. And with Jamie Purcell,
the Executive Director of the “Food for Thought”
project here in Casper, Jamie thank you, very much. We’re in your beautiful garden and we’re gonna get to the
great work that you do here in just a minute, but I want
to start with the First Lady. We just saw a small, brief
introduction, really, Mrs. Gordon, and what it is
that you are trying to do, and I’ll say right off the bat, I’m kind of sorry
that we have to talk about hunger in Wyoming. – Oh absolutely, I am too, and it’s something
that I’ve learned about just a couple of year
ago during the campaign. And as I traveled
around the state, I found more and more
people were in need. – So tell me about
your initiative. This isn’t something you
hatched just in Cheyenne. You’ve been out and
about all over Wyoming, seeing programs like what
Jamie is doing here in Casper, but also seeing areas maybe
where a lot needs to be done to help in hunger
and the statistics, they’re just sad. When you think that you know,
23 thousand kids in Wyoming really aren’t sure where
their next meal is coming from or Saturday night’s
meal is coming from. – Absolutely. What we have done,
with my office, is to try to just
travel around the state, understand what the
needs are and then, get with the people
who are doing the work on the ground, the partners
that are already doing the work, help to spotlight
what they’re doing, seeing what needs they have, if there’s any way
I could be of help, but not reinvent the wheel because I think that
there are already people, champions and heroes like
Jamie, doing the work. – Give me and idea of the
components of the program then you obviously want
to gather information, but as I understand it, there
might be grants available to either help people
start or maybe expand what it is that they’re
trying to help you know, do to help with this problem. – Absolutely, so I call
it, aware, care and share. We just, first of all,
need to make people aware, if they aren’t aware. And that is just getting
the statistics out that about 23 thousand children have food insecurity in Wyoming. Almost 71 thousand adults,
if those were cities. – Think about that, yeah. If they were
cities, 71 thousand. – That would be the
largest city in Wyoming. – That’s in our state! In a small state.
– Absolutely. So that’s the awareness part. That the caring part is
most people, once they hear, they do care, but some people
maybe need to understand why that’s important because
when people are hungry they often have
depression, anxiety, children might have to
repeat grades in school, it also effects
their physical health with diabetes, heart
disease, high blood pressure, so, it’s something that
once they understand why they should care, then
I really want ’em to share. Share the story, share
their volunteer hours, and if they have
extra share money, to help these people in need. – Before we continue on,
what should someone do? They’re saying, you know, I know I have an
issue in my community, I’m not sure where to
start, I have no idea, to get to where you are Jamie, with the great work
that you are doing. How do you get from
understanding the need to really making a difference? What should they do? – Well what we are going
to launch is a website that is going to
be and what we want to
do on that website is to put people in touch
with people such as Jamie, who have already
started a program. They don’t have to
reinvent the wheel again. They can contact peers
and work one on one and I know Jamie has helped
a lot of organization throughout the state. – I heard you speak at
church, a couple weeks ago, and that’s how I learned
about your initiative. What are people
telling you about, you know what, you’re
right on, this is an issue. Or I didn’t understand
it was an issue, I didn’t understand that we
had that problem nextdoor or right here in Wyoming. – Absolutely, the number
one thing they say is that they just
were not aware. And that they couldn’t
believe it would happen in our small state. – Yeah. Jamie, you’ve been
at this since 2012, the Wyoming “Food
for Thought” Project. – Right. – Take me back a
little bit before that. Why did you begin this,
and then we’ll get into what it is that you do. – I was working
in hunger already and working in human services and I’d had a lot of
experience working with the Boys and Girls Club
and so, at that point I had seen quite
a bit of the issue of hunger bringing kids, who were coming home
from school hungry even though they’d eaten lunch because the amount of
food they were getting really wasn’t that great. So, when I started
“Food for Thought” there was a food bag
program in Casper but it really was
what I call, at least. It really was only
serving about 160 kids and the food that was
going into the food bags wasn’t really that kid friendly. It was much more
intended for, like, assuming that the food
was going to a house that might have a kitchen or
extra ingredients to make it. So like they would send home– – This was a school district
that was trying to do this? – Right, right, yeah,
and you know, they just, I think often times
with schools right, you’re already doing so much
and so to add one more thing they were well intentioned
but they really needed help bolstering that program up. So we came in and started
that blue bag program and committed to making sure
that every single food bag had breakfast, lunch and dinner for every day a kid
was out of school. We also committed to making
sure that food was as friendly or kid friendly as possible,
easy to prepare, shelf stable, we never wanted to
assume that that food bag was going home to a home
that maybe had electricity or a functioning kitchen. So all the things that
we put in the food bag, we wanted to do our
best to make sure that, at the time, my daughter
was in kindergarten. And so I looked at
her and thought, if she takes this
bag of food home, can she sustain herself
over the weekend until she gets back to school. And that’s really
where it started, and you know, since,
has grown exponentially. But everything that
we’re doing in Casper is really focused on that
idea that we want kids and in turn, their
families and the community to have good and healthy
access to food all year round. – But it seem to
me it’s a change, it’s changing the way
we think about food. That we don’t just
want to go to the store and grab the budget gourmet. There are other ways
that we can work together as a community to provide food. – Right well, Mrs. Gordon really
touched on those statistics and I think that
one of the reasons that we have such high
statistics of hunger in Wyoming is because people such a make
such a broad assumptions, right well, why don’t
the kids parents just go get another job? Why don’t they just go to a
community garden and pick food? And the problem with
making those assumptions that everyone’s life
is the same as yours and so if they would
just do X, Y and Z, then the problem would be solved is that, this problem
is so multi-faceted and it’s not just about
not enough food at home, but it’s about why is there
not enough food at home. What are all of those issues
contributing to the fact that there is not
enough food at home. And so, from our perspective
at “Food for Thought”, we’re really trying to
look at our solution and what we’re
doing not just from, here’s a bag of food,
see you next week. Even though that’s what we
call the band aid, right? We’re taking care of
the immediate need but we really want to
work with our community and by that I mean
everyone in the state that’s working on this,
to address solutions that, hopefully in time,
put us out of business because the issue
is no longer there. – Jennie, we were talking off
camera about a 2-1-1 service and I want to talk
about that briefly before we get back
into just hunger. It’s a service that I
think a lot of people aren’t aware of, me included. – Absolutely, I met the 2-1-1
cordinater for the state in Laramie about
three weeks ago. She approached me when I
mentioned we were trying to get a database together
with all the services that were provided for
hunger, and she mentioned that this is a country
wide number you can call and they have people have will
triage all sorts of problems whether it’s your electricity
is getting cut off, or you need to find housing
or you need to find food, or mental health services. – And certainly you’ve
seen the statistics, hunger happens to be right near
the top of why people call. – Absolutely, she
said top four reasons. – And so, even in Wyoming
people can call this number now and get connected and
with what you’re doing maybe even have more resources
at their disposal here soon. – Absolutely and they’ll
triage through to see if maybe you’re a veteran, you could get services through
the Veterans Administration. Or if you have a child that
maybe has special needs, or other facilities that
they can refer you to. – We’re in a beautiful garden, and it hasn’t frozen
yet which is awesome. – Right! – Tell me, what is
this garden, Jamie? How is it utilized and
there are other gardens around Casper as well? – Sure, so one of the things
that “Food for Thought” does is try and demonstrate what
can be done for a solution. So our three core
pillars of what we do are to provide, educate and empower. So this community garden was
the first one that we did, we now have over 200 community
garden beds in Casper. At this location
we have about 100. And so most of the garden
beds that you see here are planted for the
good of the community and anyone can come
pick at any time. The intention with that we
call “Food is Free Gardens” is to show people in our
community, number one, that you can grow your own food. Number two, that a raspberry
comes off of a plant that looks like that and
this is when you pick it. And then number three, to
create community around food and allow our neighbors
to feel empowered and give dignity to food
access and help them to understand that they too, can do this maybe in
their own apartment or their own yard, that
there are ways to create upward mobility, many,
many different ways, just like I was talking
about those multi-faceted pieces of hunger, there
are many different ways you can address hunger
and one of those is just by planting a garden
and sharing the produce with you community
and your neighbors. – One of the great things that I’ve learned
about your program is you depend on volunteers?
– [Jamie] (agreeing) Those volunteers aren’t
just senior citizens, they might be young people
working side by side with a senior
citizen or an adult and I think that’s
just fascinating. – Thank you.
– Yeah. How does that work, for
people that are interested in volunteering,
what should they do? – Well you know, not just
for our organization, but I would recommend,
just like Mrs. Gordon has for any community, if you feel
compelled to get involved, just pick up the
phone or come down to wherever that
place is and ask. Most food bag programs
that I know of are really open to all
ages and it’s really fun when you’re packing those
food bags to see the little’s with the retirees and all the
ages and abilities in between. We’ve got folks that come
from probation and parole and do their community
service hours, we’ve got some developmentally
disabled folks who come because for us, we really try, again, to make
everything attainable
to everyone if we can. And so, again, you know, it’s
welcoming, it’s community, because I think another
piece of this issue is, you know, it’s not just one
person doing one thing, right? It’s all of us working together
on multi levels to do this. And so if you make that
work attainable to everyone in one form or function,
then more gets done. – So you’re serving
thousands of people? Tell people how many are on
your staff, that are paid here. – (laughing) Three. – [Interviewer] Three people?
– Yes. – It’s amazing the
work that you do, and we’re gonna
talk a little bit about what’s down the line. Mrs. Gordon, you talked
about an interesting, something interesting to me
when I heard you speak earlier about breakfast after the bell, which I thought was very
interesting, you know, I heard of free and
reduced lunch programs, offering maybe
breakfast before school. But there’s a stigma
too, for people that, oh, you’re a breakfast
kid and I’m not. But there are ways
that are being utilized to work around that problem. – Absolutely, our staff joined
the Department of Education earlier this year,
we wrote a grant, and received, we are
one of five states that received the grant
for $50 thousand dollars to actually introduce
breakfast into the classroom so the kids don’t have to choose
between getting off the bus and going to the playground
and playing with their friends or going into the cafeteria, which often times,
they would choose to play with their friends. It’s been in the state
for quite a few years. We were just up in Gillette, they have been doing
it for 14 years. But more and more schools
are coming on board and are really excited to
see those numbers increase. There are some great champions
I know, Laramie County, the Food Service Director
there, Shannon Thompson-Emslie, is willing to help any
school district that wants to get it started cause
she knows the in’s and out. – There are people, I’m
sure, not just children, that are trying to decide, should I go play with
my friends or eat? But maybe there are also adults
who are watching right now, I don’t know that I
should make that call. What encouragement would you
give them to seek assistance? – Well I think you know, if
you want to do it anonymously I would call that 2-1-1 number. They could get you started
and it would be something that would not be,
it’s very confidential, it wouldn’t be something
that people would know about. I think coming down,
visiting your local like, “Food for Thought” or any
of the other food banks, there’s a lot of food
pantries in the state and I think they’re
willing to help anyone. And they’re really
removing barriers now instead of having you
fill out a lot of forms, they just say come in and
let’s talk about things, and let’s get you fed first. – Jamie we were talking off
camera about They’re First. – Yes. – And some things that
you would like to do, it’s a really well
painted bus not far from where we’re sitting today that you haven’t
been able to use? – Right.
– Tell me about that issue. – Well so the Wyoming
Food Freedom Act is
a really great law and in 2015 the first
act that was passed had this clause in it where I
could be your designated agent so Mrs. Gordon could say,
go sell my beef for me, and could go do that. They took that clause
out in 2017, and so now, you as the producer
are the only one who can sell your products
unless it’s been inspected. So that lead us to recognize
that there’s a need in our community and
in many communities for commercial
processing facilities, for people to make their
jams and jellies and salsas and things like that in
a commercial kitchen, and then be able to sell it
beyond the farmers market. Well one of those issues is that most of the people who
sell at the farmers market it’s their side hustle or
it’s their retirement project. And so, they don’t necessarily
need to go rent a kitchen for six months or a
year on their own, and kitchens can be
expensive and so, what we have done, and
what other communities are doing as well is
we purchased a building with a commercial
kitchen inside of it. And it will be a shared
use commercial kitchen. So not only will we be
able to fill our bus with commercially
inspected products that we will then be able to
drive around our community to places where people
may not be able to make it to the grocery stores
or farmers markets, but we’ll also be able
to help our producers at our farmers markets be able
to expand their businesses and perhaps even make
it their full time job, if they would like
for that to be. And we’ll be able to
start seeing more and more Wyoming products in grocery
stores and other places. Places that you know,
tout local and have local as in, from Colorado
or places like that, but our intention
and with our partners around the state to really
create a stronger system of food-preneurs we call them. Entrepreneurs around food
that will be able to scale up in a manageable manner. – You a gardener, Mrs. Gordon? – I have been, but
during the campaign, I did not plant a garden, so. – One of the things that I
think is interesting though, is that, you touched
on it earlier Jamie, is that people can
learn to do this. In our family, my wife
definitely has a green thumb but she’s learned, and
she’s invested some time. There are things like, you can check out
seeds from a library! – Right! – That was surprising to me. Tell me about that program. – Yeah, there are
many seed libraries around the state as well, we
actually have a seed library here at “Food for Thought”. A seed library is
essentially a card catalog that instead of having
cards in it has seeds in it. And so if you want to
plant eggplant or radishes you go to your
local seed library and you check out those
seeds and you plant them. And then at the
end of the season, you save some of those seeds
and return them to the library for the next season. So it’s a great
program in that, again, it creates access. You don’t have to go buy seeds, right, so you can check them
out and that helps more people access more seeds and it
removes barriers like that. And then it also helps create
those seeds become heartier to Wyoming, season after season. So sometimes you know,
if you plant a garden and you have like two
tomatoes germinate, you’d feel really bad. Well those tomatoes
might have been– – Every now and then it
happens to be us, yeah. – And everyone’s
like yeah, that. It’s because those seeds
came from another state where those tomatoes
weren’t grown in Wyoming. And as we all know,
Wyoming is very unique and it’s why we love it
but, you need to adapt. You need to adapt the
way you’re growing and your seeds need to adapt. Or you need to adapt the
way you’re feeding kids and how you’re reaching them. And you know, it all
comes back to looking at what the problem is
and how do we solve it in a very Wyoming way? – You’re initiating
a capital campaign. – Yes.
– Tell us about that. – All right, so, circling
back to that kitchen– – This is kind of
what’s next year, sure. – Sure, yeah so we have our
200 community garden beds, we have our weekend food bags
program that we do year round. We have a free store which
is like a thrift store that we give away
things for free. And next steps for us are
coming back to that kitchen, we bought a building
with a kitchen in it, and so we’re turning that
building into what we call the good food hub. So it’ll be 11 thousand square
feet of food processing, aggregation, on site growing,
a culinary training program and then a marketplace. And we’ll accept food stamps, we’re dreaming of all
the different things we’ll be able to do there. But the intention is just
to create a community around food and food access. – Well done Jennie, by a lady
who wanted to be an architect. (laughing) Right?
– Right. Well someone keeps telling
me, well we’re still building, we’re just not building
buildings so, yeah. – So, where do you see your
initiative going and growing Jennie, obviously we’re just
at the starting point now. You have lot of information
you need to get out to people. – Absolutely, we have the
Residents Foundation Board, which is a board that’s
been in existence, with previous administrations. We’re working, it’s a
two pronged approach. It works on the First
Ladies Initiative as well as the residents
and so right now, we’re focusing on
the initiative. We had our first board meeting, we have people from
all over the state because we wanted to make sure
our perspective was statewide rather than just in one area. And we’re obtaining information, we’re working with partners,
I’m packing food bags, I’m going to the schools and
having breakfast with the kids it’s you know, an all
gathering right now, but anytime that
someone wants to add in and give us information,
we are receptive to it and we’ll get it
disseminated out there. – You’ve been at this since 2012 but you haven’t
solved the problem. You want to–
– Right. – You’d like to out
yourself out of business. So why is that, is it
just socioeconomic issues that happen everywhere or
what is the great barriers to really attacking and
solving the problem in Wyoming? – That’s a great question and
I’m actually going to defer to you, just because
you’ve been out there. I have my own opinions,
but I would love to know what your thoughts are on that. – Well I think it can
be just about anything as I was up in Gillette recently with Food Bank of the Rockies
that was distributing food to the miners that
had lost their jobs. And these were
great paying jobs, these people were
you know, were solid, were not worried about where
their next meal was coming from suddenly they are, and
so I think it can happen at a moment’s notice. There have definitely been
families that it’s been cultural in their family and they
need maybe to have some programs such as Climb
Wyoming or programs that involve work force
services so that they can get a higher paying job. One of the food bag
recipients I met in Sheridan was working 60 hours
a week at three jobs and still not able to
provide for her family because it’s just expensive. So, I think there’s
a multi-faceted and I think it has to
be multi-solutions. – The First Lady has
shared what she thinks. Jamie what do you
think the issues, the high level issues are in
Wyoming relative to hunger? That really need to
be thought about. – I think that what
we’re going right now is exactly what we
need to be doing. We need to work on more
people accessing programs. There are quite a few
programs out there and we need to grow them,
and the way that we do that is to get people
involved financially and though volunteer hours. I think the more people who
have the ability to be involved get involved, the more people
will be able to lift up, right, the rising
tide lifts all boats. If you’re able to help,
get involved somehow. And the other piece
that I would say is think outside the box. I think that sometimes
it’s easy to think, like at Christmas when you
drop money in the bucket and you’re like, okay I did
my deed, I’m good, right? Well you didn’t just solve
world hunger, I mean, thank you so much for your
donation, that’s wonderful but can you do more? And maybe all of us should
just be asking ourselves, like, can we do more. And if we can, what
is it that we can do? – Mrs. Gordon before we go,
we have a couple more minutes, you’ve also have
come to learn about, partner with “No Kid
Hungry”, what is that? – “No Kid Hungry” is an
organization that is nation wide and I met with them when I
was back in Washington D.C. And they are committed to
reducing childhood hunger in the nation, so the grant
that I wrote, or we wrote, with the Wyoming
Department of Education, is a grant with
“No Kids Hungry”. And so they will come and
they will offer statistics, they will give you
materials for media, they help you in every area
to get that message across so that people are aware. – Jennie, as we wrap
it up, of course, people can also donate to the
“Food for Thought” project. – Right. – And I think that you would
encourage them to do that because there are folks that
come and pick at a garden or pack a food bag. – Right. – You shared with me off
camera some statistics that you saw when you
first started in 2012 and they haven’t
necessarily gotten worse but they haven’t necessarily
gotten better either, at least in Natrona County. Share with folks the need that really has
extended over time. – You asked me earlier
about like, spikes, or did it seem to ebb and flow. And since we have
been around, really, there have been about three
thousand kids in Natrona County continuously who have been
identified as food insecure and those are from multiple
studies by the U.S.D.A., “Feeding America”
and some other, “No Kid Hungry” has done
some studies as well. And those numbers don’t
change and so to us that means it’s not just,
the economy is bad right now so more people are hungry, it really comes back to the
thing I keep harping on, that systemic issue. So you have to get involved and I love this Wyoming
hunger Initiative because when kids go
to school and they eat, their brains are ready to learn, you have an entire generation
who now gets to take advantage of their education
completely and fully. So you’re gonna see
test scores go up, you’re gonna see
graduation rates go up, you’re gonna see kids more
empowered as they’re graduating and leaving school because
they’ve been cared for from day one and not
just by their parents, which is obviously
hugely important, but by the entire community. So they have this whole
community of people feeding them and loving them and
taking care of them so when they’re
ready to graduate, off they go in a
great, positive way, to contribute to the world
and I think that in 12 years when this Wyoming
hunger Initiative has been around for that long
and you have a generation of kids who have been fed and
you have weekend food bags that are also taking care
of kids on the weekend. You’re gonna see
a dramatic shift. But until that
happens, those numbers, the 28 thousand number of kids, the over 75, 78 thousand
people living with hunger. That’s not gonna change until
we start from the bottom I think. – Jennie you call
yourself a trail blazer. (laughing) but in that context,
you’re not afraid to try, maybe fail and to readjust and
I think that’s an important message to people who
want to maybe begin to make a difference, aren’t
sure, but you know what, no one has the answer and
the message is just to try. – Right, yeah, absolutely. – First Lady of the state
of Wyoming, Jennie Gordon. Thank you so much for
sharing with us today, you know your thoughts on
this important initiative and Jamie Purcell for your work. – Thank you. – Yeah, thank you
for the opportunity. – The work you do here
Jamie is just wonderful and could be repeated elsewhere. – Absolutely.
– Absolutely. – Thank you all for joining
us on Wyoming Chronicle. – Thank you. (dramatic orchestral music) – [Speaker] Funding for
this program was provided by the members of the
Wyoming PBS Foundation. Thank you for your support.

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