On Saturday volunteers were in the full spirit of giving — and they made sure hundreds of our friends and neighbors received desperately needed food.

Eight hundred fifty-two people, in fact.

Thanks to Jackson Cupboard volunteers, it wasn’t just meals. Everyone who came to the COVID-19 Mobile Response Pantry was visible, known, cared for. Two small examples: A 9-year-old’s birthday sent up cheers and shouts along the street, and a couple of new grandparents were feted with an impromptu baby shower of diapers and onesies along with their meals.

Our valley’s renowned generosity was on full display in last weekend’s partnership between the Cupboard and the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies, which brought a semi packed with 60,000 pounds of food onto a temporarily one-way Glenwood Street.

People in our community are hungry. Teton County continues to be the richest county in the nation. And, yet we still allow our neighbors to go hungry.

Who does food insecurity impact the most?

• Low-income households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold (29.1%)

• Households with children headed by a single woman (27.8%)

How many people are we talking about?

• Feeding America projects a food insecurity rate in Wyoming of 18-19%.

• They estimate rates of childhood food insecurity of 24-26%. That’s nearly 35,000 hungry kids in Wyoming.

And that was before COVID-19, massive job losses, and an economic downturn. 

I say “should” because, while we have some great community solutions — like the Cupboard and Hole Food Rescue — we don’t seem to be simultaneously investing in policy solutions. I can only assume that’s because we don’t actually comprehend the scale of the problem, what the risks are and what is at stake.

From April 2019 to April 2020 the Cupboard saw a 350% increase in need. From May 2019 to this past May the need jumped 400%. In June local need continued to rise, with over 2,000 locals seeking food. That’s five times as many people this June when compared with a year ago.

“So many are paycheck to paycheck, and any little wobble financially and they become food insecure,” long-time Cupboard volunteer and board member Leslye Hardie said. “I have never seen so many tears as lately.”

We are also a community that embraces innovative solutions like Hole Food Rescue, which estimates the annual retail value of its rescues at $1.2 million and the return on investment at 550%.

“It’s worth a whole lot more to the children, seniors, and families who would otherwise go hungry,” according to its materials.

That’s entirely consistent with what Hardie said clients tell her each week: “I will take anything you can give me, but I want to make sure there is enough for everyone.” So far there has been.

But charitable solutions are already stretched thin. They cannot be our long-term remedy; we cannot confuse charity with justice.

Especially as the situation becomes more dire and we face additional structural obstacles.

Teton County and the town of Jackson are advancing plans to levy an additional penny of sales tax. At the same time the state of Wyoming is discussing levying its own additional penny of sales tax. That would be 2 additional cents of sales tax on all purchases. And, because the state’s revenue picture is so dire, there is a growing effort to repeal the sales tax exemption on food.

So, for those in our community who could least afford it, there is a strong likelihood that a few months from now they may have to pay an extra 8% on the food they buy to feed their families. We’ll all go from paying no tax on “food for domestic consumption” to adding 8 cents per each $1 we spend. Wyoming’s regressive tax structure means this will hit the poorest the hardest.

For those already struggling and for the organizations that feed them, this is devastating news.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can do the work to make a difference and feed our neighbors. Here are three things you can start doing right now and carry forward every day:

• Understand that women and children are the most likely to live in poverty in our community and are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity.

• Oppose regressive taxes and join the fight to keep food tax-free.

• Use your gratitude to spur you into action to support our community’s existing resources. Give all that you can, and commit every day to ending hunger.

We have the resources to ensure no one goes hungry here. It’s time to show we have the will.

Jennifer M. Simon founded the Wyoming Women’s Action Network and is a senior policy advisor to the Equality State Policy Center. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School. She can be reached via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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