WY Food Bank distributed 10 8 million pounds

Working with more than 150 hunger relief partners across the state, Food Bank of Wyoming was able to distribute nearly 11 million pounds of food in 2023, a 9% increase from the previous year.

Jill Stillwagon, development director for the food bank, said one in nine adults and one in eight children in Wyoming do not have enough to eat or do not know where their next meal will come from.

“We really are seeing Wyoming neighbors seeking food assistance right now,” Stillwagon observed. “They’re having to make sometimes difficult decisions, whether that’s between buying enough food to eat or paying rent, or paying for medicine.”

Stillwagon is working to refill the food bank’s coffers to meet this year’s demand. She stressed donations to their Annual Fund are critical for purchasing and distributing fresh produce and shelf-stable foods to schools, churches and food pantries across the state.

Stillwagon pointed out people who benefit from Food Bank services come from all walks of life, from older adults to families with small children, in rural areas, towns and cities. She said many people working multiple jobs to keep their financial heads above water are just one life-disrupting event away from needing help.

“You might be OK this month, but lets’ say something happens, you have an emergency; a car accident or a medical bill,” Stillwagon explained. “We want to provide food to anyone and everyone, regardless of what you’re going through.”

The food bank operates 19 mobile food pantries, and recently launched the Fresh Express Route, which distributes nutrient-rich produce to 50 hunger relief partners by semi-truck. Stillwagon emphasized most local food sites welcome volunteers and she added the most efficient way to help neighbors experiencing hunger is by making a financial contribution.

“Food Bank of Wyoming is able to take $1 and provide enough food for three meals,” Stillwagon outlined. “We are able to do that because of our purchasing power.”

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Missouri is planning ahead to make sure kids from lower-income families have enough to eat this summer.

The state has opted into a federal food assistance program known as Summer EBT, which supplies a little extra grocery money during the long summer break. In Missouri, the most recent data from the nonprofit Feeding America show one in eight children is food-insecure.

Christine Woody, food security policy manager for Empower Missouri, said 12% of Missouri households don’t always have enough to eat, and the $40 per summer month for qualifying children will go a long way.

“It doesn’t seem like a whole heck of a lot,” Woody acknowledged. “But when milk prices and egg prices and everything has gone up so significantly, just the extra funds will help out a family when they’re not in school, where they would be receiving the free and reduced-price lunch.”

It’s estimated about 429,000 Missouri children will be helped by the program, and more than $51 million in benefits will come into the state, to be spent at local grocery stores.

Chad Higdon, CEO of Second Harvest Community Food Bank in St. Joseph, said he supports the new effort, which started with pilot programs in some other states. He believes the extra aid can make a meaningful difference, particularly for rural families.

“Summer can be the hungriest time of year for families with school-aged children, and some of the most beneficial benefit was for kids in rural communities,” Higdon pointed out. “Young families are some of the most vulnerable and so, this is a good opportunity to really support families that are low income.”

According to Feeding America, inadequate nutrition can have a profound negative affect on a child’s physical, mental and behavioral health and development. The Summer EBT program is expected to benefit about 21 million children in 35 states.

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Utah Food Bank is expanding in San Juan County, and has announced the opening of two new pantries that will help support residents of the Navajo Nation.

President and CEO Ginette Bott said despite the food bank serving San Juan County for about 30 years, it had been a challenge to meet the level of need in the area.

She said the Navajo Nation is considered a food desert, with an average driving time to food resources taking up to several hours, one-way. The new pantries will help enhance food accessibility.

“While there are a couple of small pantries in the area of San Juan County in different locations, they still weren’t big enough, or still couldn’t be opened every single day,” said Bott. “People here will have to drive to Cortez or to Moab, it’s not like you can jump in your car and run a couple of blocks and grab a gallon of milk.”

Bott said the Montezuma Creek Food Pantry should be open in the next few days, while the Monument Valley Food Pantry will need a bit more time to tie up some loose ends before opening.

San Juan County residents face significantly higher rates of hunger compared with the rest of the Beehive State.

Seventeen percent of residents report food insecurity, compared with 10% statewide, according to Utah Food Bank.

While the pantries will help in addressing food needs, Bott said they’ll also help provide needed job opportunities that help ensure that the pantries’ operating hours remain regular and reliable.

She noted it is important to make sure those being served feel seen and heard.

“We want to be sure that we are respectful of all things that are important to the folks that we are going to be serving,” said Bott, “and we want people to realize we are not coming in here to make a change, we are only coming in here to enhance them and their lives.”

In order to address the specific needs of those who live in the region, Bott added, the pantries have had to learn more about the Navajo diet and preferences, while also aiming to increase available fresh produce and help mitigate the impacts of prevalent health conditions such as diabetes through diet.

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March is National Nutrition Month, and North Dakotans are being reminded of ways to better manage their health through personalized diet plans emphasizing flexibility without all the pressure.

In a post-pandemic world, people might be trying to shed unhealthy eating habits they developed during the early stages of COVID-19. Or the crisis may have inspired them to pay more attention to preventing disease and improving their health.

Bailey Holmquist, a registered dietitian based in Fargo, said fewer processed foods should play a role. For example, there are certain proteins to keep in mind.

“I tell my patients, ‘Do what you’re able to, but if we can get good grass-fed meats, pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught fish,'” Holmquist outlined. “So that we get the most nutrients out of those animals.”

But if such items are not in your budget, or you do not have time to look for them, she recommended buying the protein most easy to obtain. Canned beans are considered a good complementary option. And there is affordable peanut butter made from healthy ingredients. Holmquest stressed it is not about being perfect with your diet, but instead focusing on consistency.

Holmquest also pointed out specific guidance on healthy diets does not work for everyone, and it is important to figure out what your body can handle.

“If somebody has kidney disease and they hear ‘protein,’ that’s so not good for them to hear,” Holmquest noted. “Because protein is very, very hard on the kidneys, when somebody has impaired kidney functions.”

As for fresh fruits and vegetables, she recommended rinsing them off before using, which helps to remove any pesticides used to grow them. As for meal planning, Holmquest suggested having plenty of your favorite “go-to” nutritious items stored in your kitchen, which makes it easier to prepare something healthy on a busy night.

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