Grit & Grace: The Food Bank of Wyoming

Getting food onto the tables of hungry families across the United States has inherent challenges: identifying and communicating with those families, providing healthy, fresh foods, and empowering people to utilize all of the food they receive. In Wyoming, however, there are additional unique challenges to assisting food-insecure families. And it’s because of these one-of-a-kind hurdles the Food Bank of Wyoming is a one-of-a-kind organization.

The issue in Wyoming is that we face many of the same challenges that are faced throughout the United States, except that we’re a very rural state,” explains Tony O. Woodell, Director of the Food Bank of Wyoming. “Therefore, we have the same number percentage-wise of people facing hunger in Wyoming that the other states do, but ours are in pockets and in isolated areas. So, the biggest challenge in WY is just distributing the food — just getting it where it needs to go."

Woodell isn’t exaggerating. There are at least 250 mountain passes on Wyoming roads, almost all of which are two-lane. The state also enjoys the nation’s highest average windspeed — around 13 miles per hour — with frequent gusts up to 60 miles per hour. Many parts of the state experience over 150 inches of snow each winter, with temperatures hovering in the single digits. The Cowboy State’s nearly 98,000 square miles are rugged, to say the least.

“Facing that challenge in Wyoming is a thing that we have to consider all the time. Wyoming is a big state: it’s the 10th largest state, so territory-wise it’s large. For population, we’re 50th. Even Alaska has a larger population than WY. As a result, it can be tough making sure that the food is distributed equitably in the state and making sure that people are getting what they need,” Woodell explains.

But that’s exactly what the Food Bank of Wyoming strives to do, no matter how tough it may be. Until a couple of years ago, the organization was known as Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies, but a recent rebrand embraces the uniquely Wyoming efforts and tactics that the nonprofit utilizes. “Two years ago, we asked ourselves, ‘Who are we today, and how can we best serve Wyoming?’” reflects Woodell.

“We set out to create an identity that reflects who we truly are. Also, from a practical standpoint, our website was extremely outdated with major functionality issues, we needed more visible signage, and our trucks were overdue for updates amongst other essential upgrades we needed to keep our operations functioning smoothly. Through these efforts, we hope to better connect, better engage, and ultimately better serve the people of Wyoming.”

Food Bank of Wyoming doesn’t achieve this level of service alone, however. Through partnering with around 160 different agencies across the state, the Food Bank of Wyoming provides goods that local organizations can distribute to those in need. Additionally, the nonprofit will bring foods directly for distribution in various communities.

“There are some areas of the state where the need is great, and the pantries that are in those areas aren’t large enough to meet the need of the community,” says Woodell. “In that case, we work with the local pantry to do what we call a ‘mobile pantry’ where we take a semi to that area and deliver food directly out of our truck to help with the capacity needs.”

Woodell stresses that the Food Bank of Wyoming couldn’t achieve the level of distribution or the impact on statewide hunger without their network of partner organizations. “We don’t work in isolation. We work in partnerships. We collaborate with our partner pantries and other groups that are doing this kind of work across the state — other groups working toward alleviating hunger in Wyoming.”

The collaborative effort, especially over the past year, has been astonishingly expansive. Between July 2020 and July 2021, the Food Bank of Wyoming distributed 13 million pounds of food — over one million pounds each month. Woodell says that as people return to work and school, some of the demand is starting to diminish, but that food insecurity in Wyoming is far from gone.

At the Hughes Charitable Foundation, we’re proud to support the ongoing innovative efforts of the Food Bank of Wyoming.

Tony and the Food Bank of Wyoming work tirelessly to distribute healthy, high-quality food to so many food pantries and organizations across the state,” says Molly Hughes, Executive Director of the Hughes Charitable Foundation. “Even in the face of blizzards, hundreds of miles of driving, and communities that are isolated across the state, the Food Bank of Wyoming is dedicated to alleviating hunger. It’s that true Wyoming grit and determination that we find so inspiring and celebration-worthy.”