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Food for Thought seeking $750K to bring grocery store and more to North Casper

The former North Casper Elementary School has been sold to the Casper Housing Authority.

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Food for Thought Project is hoping to secure a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant for a project to transform the former North Casper Elementary School facility into an urban food center.

Food for Thought Executive Director Jamie Purcell told the Casper City Council on Tuesday, September 21 that the nonprofit aims to make the facility its new home in an effort to support the North Casper community. The urban food center would include:

  • A neighborhood grocery store
  • An urban farm
  • Community gardens
  • A shared-use commercial kitchen space
  • A food business incubator

The Community Development Block Grants are funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In Wyoming, the grants are administered by the Wyoming Community Development Authority (WCDA).

However, the WCDA does not provide grants directly to private organizations or nonprofits. Rather, municipalities must apply on behalf of organizations. Municipalities can then provide funding awarded by the WCDA to organizations if applications sponsored by those municipalities are successful.

The grants are available for projects that support low- to moderate-income areas. Purcell told the city council that the median home income in North Casper is $41,888, compared with the median income in the Casper metropolitan area of $73,654.

Purcell said that the urban food center project would help prevent blight in the area “as the new facility will be resurrected as a community-based center.”

She said that the closest grocery store to to North Casper is 1–3 miles away, depending on where someone lives in the community.

Purcell said that the urban food center project fits in with Wyoming Food for Thought Project’s mission of finding local solution to address hunger. She noted that the organization has supported a weekend food bag program for eight years to ensure kids in the Casper area have a reliable source of food when school is not in session.

Purcell said that demand for the food bags has doubled in the last year, adding that Food for Thought is seeing a need for greater space to be able to meet the demands for its services. The new urban food center project would address that space issue.

She said that Food for Thought “will reinvigorate North Casper” and that the “community will be at the heart of this project.”

Purcell added that Food for Thought has been developing the project concept for years. It had initially been envisioned as the “Good Food Hub” in downtown Casper. However, those plans stalled out amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The North Casper school facility would provide more land, allowing Food for Thought to grow for years as compared with the Good Food Hub.

Purcell said that Food for Thought has already secured a majority of the funding needed to move into the North Casper school facility and to remodel a wing of classrooms into shared-use kitchens.

She said that the grant funding would allow Food for Thought to transform the facility “into a visual and central beacon of hope.”

Multiple council members said Purcell had taken them on tours of the facility and expressed support for the proposal.

Mayor Steve Freel asked Purcell to elaborate on what a shared-use kitchen is. Purcell explained that Food for Thought already operates a shared-use commercial space kitchen at 420 West First St. That facility is licensed by the health department and allows people to rent the space to prepare and store food for their own businesses.

Purcell said about eight people use the existing kitchen on First Street. She said that if the urban food center project moves forward, that facility will be moved to the North Casper school. The First Street building would be sold, with some of the funding used to meet a 5% match required by the Community Development Block Grant.

Council member Bruce Knell asked Purcell to touch on something she showed him, Council member Lisa Engebretsen and City Manager Carter Napier during a tour of the facility.

Purcell said that an upstairs room would be devoted to hydroponic growing. Other space would be available for a small business or nonprofit to rent out at an affordable cost.

The city council voted 7-0 in favor of sponsoring Wyoming Food for Thought Project’s application to the WCDA for the grant. Council members Amber Pollock and Steve Cathey were not present on Tuesday.

Those applications are due by September 30. While the city will sponsor the application, it is ultimately up to the WCDA whether the $750,000 grant request is approved.