Before they even left the premises of St. John’s Episcopal Church, volunteers Liz Collins and Pam Woodson found their first takers. Of course: As they’ve discovered it’s never hard to find takers for free ice cream.
“There’s not a lot of people who say no,” Woodson said.
The customers were Noah and Shannon Singer, of Park City, Utah, who found themselves in the right place at the right time as they strolled down Glenwood Street on Thursday with their three young children. They passed the electric-bicycle-powered ice cream cart just as Collins pulled it out of the church’s shed and prepared to pedal away.
“We’re lucky today,” Noah said, turning to his 7-year-old daughter, Ava. “What do you want? Probably a Popsicle, yeah?”
“Yeah!” she shouted, her eyes lighting up above a tie-dye mask. “A Popsicle!”
“How do you ask?” her father said.
“Can I please have a Popsicle?”
Collins handed one to Ava, then to each of the other family members, then explained why: In a summer defined by a pandemic that has left millions feeling isolated and out-of-sorts, St. John’s and the Presbyterian Church hope to lift the people of Jackson Hole with sweet, sugary goodness.
The idea came from Catherine Morahan, the church’s youth director, with an $11,700 grant from the Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming making possible the purchase of two $5,000 e-bike carts.
“We’re just trying to spread some love,” Collins said. “Ice cream love.”
“Well, you did,” Shannon Singer said, smiling. The family walked on toward downtown, licking Popsicles in the afternoon sun. The volunteers started off in the other direction. They were on a mission, and they’d only just begun.
Collins was in charge of the cart, supposedly the only one on the market powered by an e-bike. She said it comes with the kinks one might expect of such a novelty — it’s “top heavy, a bit tippy,” Collins said. After a few shifts she’s getting the hang of it, but at times she still finds it difficult to maneuver, especially through midday traffic.
Thursday’s ride went smoothly, though, and the first stop was the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum, where a horde came running. One boy split off from the rest in a beeline for the cart, hopping a wooden fence to take the fastest, most direct route.
They restrained themselves as they approached the adults, forming more or less a single-file line. On the front of the cart a menu lists three items: chocolate-dipped ice cream bars, Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches.
“You get one, two or three,” Woodson told the group. “You know the drill.”
They’d been through this before. The cart usually follows one of three routes. It hadn’t stopped at the museum in a couple weeks, but the kids there remembered its meaning well.
One young girl, 8-year-old Iris Bain, said she once encountered the cart twice in a single day and got away with two treats — a much-needed respite in the region’s recent heat wave.
“It’s very hot today,” she said, “but it was way hotter when I got two.”
Anna Luhrmann, the program coordinator for the museum, joined in the frozen feast. She had just been eating “a gross salad. Salads are lame. Ice cream is better.”
“It’s just the best thing to do this summer,” she said of the delivery service. “There’s so much nostalgia and small-town pleasure in it. Everyone’s having a hard time, so let’s give ice cream to the kids.”
She paused a moment, taking another bite: “And their teachers,” she added.
The church volunteers often visit summer programs, like those at the museum and the Art Association of Jackson Hole. At those locations it’s common to see kids careening toward the cart, frenzied screams of “ice cream!” preceding their arrival.
Another standard stop is Phil Baux Park, where valley residents and visitors lounge throughout the day. As they pulled up, Collins and Woodson easily lured a pack of grinning children in sneakers and brightly colored shorts. The adults, though, tend to hold back.
GALLERY: Free ice cream e-bike brings treats and smiles to Jackson all summer long
What's better than enjoying a sweet, cold treat on a hot summer day in Jackson? When you get that treat for free. St. John's Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole teamed up to bring just that to Jackson this summer amid the coronavirus pandemic and shutdowns. Their goal was to bring smiles to the community during a really difficult time, having volunteers ride the bike around town a few times each week handing out ice cream.
“Do you want anything?” Woodson asked one woman accompanying a group of youngsters. She stood apart, apparently unsure whether she was allowed to partake.
“Really?” she asked.
“Yes,” Woodson said. “It’s for kids of all ages.”
A moment later two men on bicycles rode behind the cart, but at the mention of free ice cream they braked and circled back. The older man, a Michigander named Joe, stopped to assess the situation. Like many of legal age, he seemed puzzled.
“Why is it free?” he asked.
Woodson assured him there’s no catch. “Nothing is free,” she said, “but this is free.”
“Well,” Joe said, “a little refreshment would be nice for my son and I. You can’t beat free.”
Leaving the park, Collins and Woodson caught sight of the Wilderness Adventures Base Camp multitudes. It was their final destination, but supplies were running low.
“Look at all those kids up there,” Woodson said. “They look hot.”
“I hope we have enough,” Collins said.
One by one the kids filed through, picking up their Popsicles and ice cream. Though the orange creamsicle rations dwindled to just two, everyone got the dessert they wanted. At the end of two hours, Collins and Woodson had fed something like 150 people, and earned as many smiles in return. That, they said, is their reward.
“Everybody who has taken a shift,” Woodson said, “has been like, ‘This is the most fun thing we’ve done all summer.’”