Wyoming Food for Thought to open new Free Store

Wyoming Food for Thought executive director Jamie Purcell poses with her son Jacob, 8, in the new Food for Thought Free Store in north Casper. The store is open to anyone, no questions asked. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Wyoming Food for Thought Project found itself with too much of a good thing. Actually, a lot of things.

A national charity group called Good 360 organized to send overstock and unsold items from Bed Bath & Beyond to Food for Thought.

“The caveat with these donated items is they have to go directly to people in need, you can’t take them to a thrift store,” said Wyoming Food for Thought executive director Jamie Purcell.

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Wyoming Food for Thought Project started in 2012 to help provide healthy food for people and families in need. The organization believes in “dignity of access,” which states that people who need food shouldn’t have to explain or justify their needs.

Since the Food for Thought Project concentrated on community gardens and food distribution, they had no system to distribute non-parishable items.

Then the idea of a “free store” came up.

“We started aggrigating the items over the past year and thinking about where it would be and who would run it,” said Purcell.

Eventually she talked to Laura Gamble, who is on a committee at First Baptist Church. Gamble agreed to volunteer to run the store, which is located 140 East K Street in the portable classroom building at the old Roosevelt High School.

Purcell says there’s a possibility that Walmart might eventually join in to donate unused stock, which for now consists of basic household items like bedding and dishes. New toys and clothes are among the mix as well.

The store is also working on plans to accept very specific high quality donations from the community. “We ask for items from pet-free, smoke-free homes,” said Purcell. Limited storage space will limit what they can accept, said Purcell.

The grand opening for the new Free Store is this Saturday, August 11, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., with a free community BBQ. They hope to operate a couple of times a month to start.

“It’s a good way to gage the demand,” said Purcell. “We could have two people show up, or the entire store could be emptied out by Saturday…which is just fine because all of these items were just sitting on the shelves so if they can be used by the community that’s great.”

“It’s open to anyone, there’s no justification or barrier to access,” said Purcell, who says the concept of the free store fits with Food for Thought’s ethos. “If you have time to give by all means come and give it, if you need help then by all means ask for it and we’ll give you help.”

The Wyoming Food for Thought Project’s new Free Store is located in a former portable classroom at the old Roosevelt School in north Casper. The school is now owned by the Casper Housing Authority, which is gifting the space to Food for Thought. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)