Food banks prep for busier than usual holiday season

SHERIDAN — With less than two weeks until Thanksgiving, shopping carts are exiting grocery stores, wheezing beneath the weight of Thanksgiving dinner goodies.

Turkeys, yams, stuffing, cranberries, marshmallows, rolls, pies and gravy.

With that veritable horn of plenty rolling before a person, it can be easy to overlook the carts that are more like rolling horns of empty, the carts that will not hold the makings of a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, let alone the makings for three full meals for the next couple days.

It can be easy to forget the people who aren’t at the grocery store because their food stamps ran out a week ago and they do most of their shopping at one of the local food banks.

But for those food banks — the People Assistance Food Bank, the Salvation Army, and other church-based relief programs — and the people they serve, it is crucial that people remember.

“We are a long way from where we need to be,” People Assistance Food Bank Chief Executive Officer Dan Lick said. “But God gives us enough every year.”

The People Assistance Food Bank will be out today at Safeway, Albertson’s, Warehouse Market and Kmart conducting a food and donation drive that will hopefully help the organization through this holiday season that is so often a hardship.

“This is the hardest time of year for our clients because they are trying to keep up with family traditions, with a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, and they can’t afford it. But this is the most generous time of year that people help us,” Lick said.

Both The Salvation Army and the People Assistance Food Bank provide the needed ingredients for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this time of year, as well as daily food items for people in need.

Students from NSI Academy were out helping the People Assistance Food Bank with its food drive Friday. Student David Carpenter said he enjoys doing community service whenever he can.

“I can always push myself to better myself, and I can always better the community, as well,” Carpenter said. “You should always be willing to give because you never know when you’re going to have a hard time yourself. Maybe if you have a hard time, you’re going to need someone else to give to help you. It’s good to give.”

Carpenter is the Executive of Mountain View at NSI, a housing group that is part of the Wolf’s Club leadership program.

He credited NSI staff member Anthony Simmons with pushing him to get out of his comfort zone and help people in the community.

Sheridan resident Patrick Taylor said he gave to the food drive Friday because he feels he is more privileged than most.

“I like to go by the good book and give when I can give,” Taylor said.

Lick and Salvation Army Capt. Donald Warriner both said their organizations have seen increases in demand recently.

At the People Assistance Food Bank, there are currently 350 applications for Thanksgiving dinners. Last year there was 150. Similarly, the food bank is serving approximately 350 people per day, up from 200 per day at this time last year, Lick said.

Warriner said he has seen similar rates of increase at The Salvation Army.

Both men believe the increases may be due to cuts in the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as the food stamp program, that went into effect Nov. 1 when increases granted to the program in 2009 as part of an economic stimulus package expired. The $5 billion worth of reductions impacted the more than 47 million people — 1 in 7 Americans — on the program.

Each person has seen an approximately 5 percent decrease in SNAP benefits, which amounts to about $10 per person, per month, Department of Family Services Communications Officer and Senior Business Analyst Tony Lewis said.

Lewis said there are 37,553 SNAP recipients in Wyoming, representing 15,824 households. Wyoming has one of the lowest SNAP participation rates — 7 to 10 percent — in the nation, which Lewis attributes to the independent mindset in the state. However, that doesn’t mean the need isn’t there.

“The people who need SNAP and get it in Wyoming really rely on it,” Lewis said. “It’s a very significant decrease.”

Members of U.S. Congress are currently debating further cuts to the program in coming years, with figures ranging from $4-40 billion.

“This last month, there have been more new people here than we’ve ever had before,” Warriner said about increases at The Salvation Army. “Those are likely food stamp losses. Food stamps are what help them get through, and with less help, they have less to get through the month.”

The People Assistance Food Bank needs at least $40,000 to get through the end of the year, as well as about 300 turkeys and all the food they can get.

The Salvation Army needs food and monetary donations to help it serve more than 100 Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and daily needs. The average cost for a dinner box, which is prepared by local grocery stores, is $38.

The Salvation Army is also seeking volunteers to be bell ringers during the Christmas season.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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