Albany County has over 6,550 residents who aren’t sure where their next meal will come from, according to the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies.
Although food insecurity in the county tends to remain consistent, the food security nonprofit is working with local partners like Interfaith-Good Samaritan and the Laramie Soup Kitchen to combat those numbers to get hungry people fed.
The 6,550 food insecure residents make up about 17 percent of the county’s population, the biggest number based on population size compared to every other county in the state.
Victoria Ziton, communications and development manager for the Wyoming Food bank of the Rockies, said the county’s current numbers are trending consistent compared to previous years, but added they can be affected by the county’s influx of college students and, like most counties, the senior population with limited mobility.
“Your very rural areas … they’re remote and they are very often a food desert,” said Ziton. “There may not be a grocery store or a convenience store near them, and they may not have a lot of industry, so their income may also be limited.”
Mike Vercauteren, executive director of Interfaith-Good Samaritan, said the local agency has been able to consistently reach about half of the food insecure population, although their numbers have been growing.
“We have absolutely seen a steady increase, every week we get new applications,” Vercauteren said. “It’s growing, but it’s probably within the same population; we’re just helping more people within the same population.”
In addition to the regularly-scheduled services and deliveries offered in collaboration community partners, the Western Food Bank of the Rockies has been coordinating additional deliveries to the public around the state.
However, some of the most recent drop-offs, including the Jan. 18 one at the Econo-lodge, have been very busy. Many residents expressed concerns that people were taking more food than they could reasonably consume at the Jan. 18 distribution, but Vercauteren said the food bank has a hard time telling people they can’t have food.
“Every time we try to study this problem of people taking too much, what we really truly find is that it’s a very small percentage of people that take more than they need,” Vercauteren said. “98 percent of the people that take food only take what they need. That’s the way Laramie is.”
He added most of the people taking extra food do so for their parents, families and neighbors — especially the elderly — that may not be able to make it to the drop off location.
Although Interfaith has seen an increase in food pantry usage, Ted Cramer, executive director of the Soup Kitchen, said his agency’s visitor numbers have remained steady, even through the federal government shutdown. He added, however, the Soup Kitchen’s goal isn’t numbers-driven, but relationship-driven.
“The Soup Kitchen really believes strongly that it’s about relationships, that we need to serve people, but also build a community as part of that,” Cramer said. “We don’t just want to provide food for just anyone that walks by, we want to be able to connect with that person when they come in to get the food that they need and encourage them to take the food that they need so there’s enough for every single person who is in need to come get food.”
Cramer added factors like stigma could be affecting the Soup Kitchen’s numbers, but he said he feels the kitchen is more than ready to accommodate everyone in need.
Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies has another delivery scheduled Friday through the Albany County School District No. 1. Families in the school district can pick up food from 3:30-6:00 p.m. on Friday at the Laramie Middle School or 2:30-4:00 p.m. on Friday at Linford Elementary school.