Bob Weiss cheerily walked shoppers through the Jackson Cupboard’s offerings on its front porch Christmas Day, keeping pep in his step against the freezing weather.
“Soup, full meal, pie, gravy — you need some butter for your bread?” Weiss, 73, asked a client. “Help yourself. You have someone else at home you need to pick up food for?”
As the last families of the day left, Weiss told the News&Guide, “It just makes you feel good.”
Weiss, a member of the Jackson Hole Jewish Community, was one of four members from the faith group who showed up Christmas Day to lend a hand at the Jackson Cupboard, working to keep the valley food pantry open on the holiday.
One22, which recently acquired the Cupboard and moved it from the basement of St. John’s Episcopal Church to a new location at 245 N. Glenwood St., gladly accepted the group’s offer
“We love volunteering on Christmas,” Mary Grossman, the Jewish Community’s executive director, told the News&Guide. “It gives people a break.”
In a normal year — one when a COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed everything, for example — Jewish Community members volunteer at St. John’s Living Center on Christmas, bringing treats for the staff.
“We would sing Christmas carols,” Grossman said. “But to have a big group of Jews sing Christmas carols — nobody knew the songs. So we actually had Christmas carol books made for the Jewish community.”
This year those books stayed on Grossman’s desk.
Access to senior care facilities like the Living Center is limited because of the pandemic and the risk the virus poses to older people. The Jewish Community looked for other ways to help, and landed on helping the Jackson Cupboard, thanks to its member Rachel Stam, accountant for One22.
Sharel Lund, executive director of One22, decided to give the holiday opening a go. Newly in charge of the Cupboard, Lund is trying to get the word out that the pantry is devoted to getting food to people who need it. She didn’t know how busy operations would be this year (this year was the first that the Cupboard was open on Christmas), but thought the extra hands would help.
“When they offered to help us,” Lund said, “I said, ‘You know, if you’re willing to come with or without shoppers, we’ll put you to work.’ I hope that what people saw from that is they’re serious at the Jackson Cupboard about being available to me and my family if I’m hungry. Because we are serious about it.”
The decision to open the Jackson Cupboard on Christmas came as One22 was changing how the food pantry works, halting in-person browsing (because of COVID-19, of course) while giving people ways to shop and extending the food pantry’s hours.
People can walk up and tell Cupboard staff what they need, then wait outside while staff fills the order. Shoppers can also drop off a paper form and return the next day to pick an order. Or, if they have access to the internet, they can order online at One22JH.org.
There’s also a specials board hung outside, showing customers what’s available that day, said Lund.
Lund said Persephone has been “very generous” with its donations so far.
But perhaps the biggest change at the Cupboard, Lund said, is extended hours. In the past the food pantry was open for just four two-hour shifts throughout the week.
Now it’s open six days a week for at least six hours at a time, the exception being Saturday, when it’s open from 10 a.m. to noon. Expanded hours have allowed the Cupboard to both serve more people and space out shoppers to reduce pandemic-induced health risks.
The two-hour shifts of the Cupboard’s past, Lund said, usually served about 25 people at a time, sometimes more and sometimes less.
But between Dec. 14, the day the Cupboard first extended its hours, and Dec. 23, Lund said the Cupboard served about 31 people a day.
“So far, that’s been really great,” she told the News&Guide.
The Cupboard has also cooked up a partnership with the Snake River Grill’s managing partner Jeff Drew, who serves on One22’s board. Since Dec. 14, when the Cupboard opened this year, the chef and the Cupboard have made about 56 gallons of soup for the food pantry since Dec. 14.
“It’s the holidays, you know,” said Drew. “And obviously you’re hearing the perfect storm of evictions and the federal money running out and it’s Christmas. ... It immediately felt like, ‘Oh, my God, this is the very least thing I could do.’”
Drew said he focuses on making calorie-rich soups — plenty of chicken, rice or pasta — picking vegetables and whatnot from the Cupboard. As a result, the nonprofit gets regular deliveries from Hole Food Rescue, while making big batches of fresh chicken stock at the Grill.
“It was a combination of both the food cupboard as well as a little bit of extra love from Snake River Grill,” Drew said.
The program may continue, and Lund and Drew said they’re going to look to other business and restaurant partners to make the soup. But Lund said that in the meantime she hopes it serves as a welcome for people to come by the Cupboard, which is open to everyone.
“Our goal is … [that] people not feel stigmatized,” Lund said. “If they want to come for food, they should come for food and get some soup and it’ll be great.”
Back at the Cupboard on Christmas, minestrone soup was on the menu.
Ditto meals prepared by Teton County chef Jason Bruni, as well as the fruits of a longstanding Cupboard partnership: turkey and side dishes provided by Albertsons.
The Cupboard wasn’t incredibly busy on Christmas — about five people came through between 11 and noon, when the News&Guide dropped by — but Grossman said it had been busier the night before. Bruni provided the Cupboard 50 meals, 25 of which went on Christmas Eve. Fewer went on Christmas Day.
“I’m glad we helped anybody who wanted it,” Stam told the News&Guide as they were cleaning up. “If we can help make somebody’s Christmas a little better, it’s all good.”
Lund wasn’t sure if the Cupboard would open on other holidays but said it would be “looking at ways to ensure that people never have to go without food.”
Weiss, who had volunteered on Christmas with his religious community in Dallas, said he was happy to have the opportunity to help out this year and share with others.
“You’ve got to share your time, your talent, your treasure,” he said. “This is community.”