Efforts by Laramie County organizations combined with fresh produce donations from Miller Farms of Colorado through the Saturday Cheyenne Farmer’s Market have led to more than four tons of fresh produce distributed so far to families in Albin, Burns and Cheyenne.
Each Saturday, a representative from the Cheyenne Rotary After Hours Club (CRAH) and the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) in the Laramie County Extension Office recruit and oversee volunteers from community groups who help load and deliver produce to Needs, Inc., where it is weighed and stored.
Needs staff and volunteers pack the produce into boxes and distribute to those in need.
“A huge thank you to Miller Farms, the CRAH club and CNP,” said Taylor Albert, Needs, Inc., executive director. “They made this possible for us.”
The Needs food pantry is open to the public, and it also delivers food to community centers in Albin and Burns. Laramie County 4-H clubs, the Boy Scouts and other Rotary clubs are just a few of the groups who have volunteered to help.
Albert estimates up to 1,500 people have benefitted from the program so far. The Saturday Farmer’s Market is the annual fund-raiser for Community Action of Laramie County. The market is expected to run through Oct. 3.
CNP and 4-H are part of the University of Wyoming Extension, which has offices in all Wyoming counties and the Wind River Indian Reservation.
“Working with food banks is a huge part of our job,” said Jill Person, CNP educator in Laramie County along with Tammy Ware and Kelsi Goldfarb. “For a lot of our clientele, I think fresh produce and especially fresh local produce is hard to come by.”
Person said CNP was able to become involved with the donated produce effort through Juliet Daniels, an extension community development educator based in Laramie County and member of the CRAH club.
“Our work with her in community development was crucial in connecting with the CRAH club,” said Person.
Daniels said the CRAH club developed the produce distribution program in 2016 to support the Cheyenne VA. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the VA was unable to accept the food donations this year.
The club was unsure they had the capacity to make the necessary changes to the program given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. According to CRAH club president Judy Fossum, “Partnering with the Laramie County Extension office, particularly the CNP program, has enabled us to keep this program going this year and ensure those in need continue to have access to fresh produce.”
Donated produce has included potatoes, squash, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, onions, kale, green beans, peppers, sweet corn and watermelon, among others.
The produce distributed through Needs, Inc., may be the only fruits and vegetables on some Laramie County tables, Person said.
The timing of the food donation and networking has been particularly important, said Albert.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic, and we have had lots of families that never had needed to access our services before,” she said.
There are no restrictions to the food pantry produce boxes. No information is required.
“This has allowed us to connect with families that may have felt uncomfortable,” she said. “This is an open door to get food to people who need it the most but may not know how to access various agencies in Cheyenne.”
The donations to Needs, Inc., through this partnership significantly increased the amount of fresh produce they are able to provide to Laramie County families, according to Ware.
“Fresh produce is a luxury for a food pantry,” Albert said. “Having a weekly flow of fresh produce is probably unheard of for pantries across the nation. It’s huge for us to have it, especially with kiddos going back to school and the community going back to work.”