For a great many of us, a “quick trip” to the grocery store is a simple everyday task. In Wyoming, a quick trip anywhere is not all that simple.
Wyoming is the least populated state in the country yet the 10th largest in square miles. For people who are under-resourced and facing food insecurity, the sheer size of the state can pose yet another obstacle to thriving.
“We are a very rural big state,” said Tony Woodell, director of Food Bank of Wyoming. “We are serving small communities located in isolated places, but we have to go around the mountains, and during the wintertime it’s very, very difficult. Compound the weather, the distance, the mountains, and the low population base—that gives you a good idea of the challenges we face every day.”
Our Food Bank Volunteers Make It Possible
Although Wyoming is vast in size, it is neighborly in spirit. The key reason Food Bank of Wyoming is able to serve so many is the commitment of everyday citizens who volunteer at the 160 Hunger Relief Partners in all 23 counties. You can get the food there, but you need someone who understands the local dynamics and can get the food out to people who need it most, 12 million pounds of it in 2020.
“They face people coming to them in need on a regular basis,” he noted. “Some of these Partners have really stretched. They are truly the all-stars.”
One of these all-stars is Sylvia Parvin, the volunteer coordinator of the Rock River mobile food pantry. Sylvia said that before the site opened in September 2018, a lot of her neighbors drove 17 miles to the food pantry in Medicine Bow, and when the roads were really bad (and often closed) it was especially difficult for the older adults. Rock River—population 250—hasn’t had a grocery store for decades and the nearest one is 40 miles away.
Sylvia, a Wyoming native, has been getting food into the hands of people in Albany County since the 1980s. She’d drive to Laramie and pick up USDA commodities, such as the so-called “government cheese” made from massive amounts of surplus milk when dairies were receiving federal subsidies during the recession. Across the country, millions of pounds of the processed cheese were distributed to those facing food insecurity.
These days Sylvia oversees the distribution of 120 boxes of fresh produce and perishables at the Rock River fire hall, up from about 75 boxes a year ago. On stormy days, the mayor and fire chief help her deliver around town to people who can’t get out because “they’re elderly or they’re on oxygen or had a medical emergency.” How does she know who could use some assistance? “This is my database,” she said, pointing to her head.
More Than Volunteering; A Calling
While many people face difficult food choices related to income, access often compounds the situation, such as inadequate or no transportation. “Most people are pretty independent and plan for winters and bad roads,” Sylvia said. “But we’re getting a lot of out-of-staters moving in, and they don’t understand Wyoming’s seasonal weather emergencies and they just don’t seem to plan ahead.”
The Rock River team includes an additional eight volunteers, most of whom are U.S. military veterans and a couple of whom have faced extreme challenges themselves. “I think of all these veterans who have already served their country. They still want to serve people, and it inspires the rest of us,” she said.
As for Sylvia and her reasons, “My family has always volunteered and helped people, and it’s what God says to do, so I do it. Long story short.”
Interested in making a difference in your community? Learn more about our volunteer opportunities.