As government shutdown lingers, Casper's food banks prepare for the worst - Casper, WY Oil City News
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As government shutdown lingers, Casper’s food banks prepare for the worst

Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies warehouse worker Delbert Drake moves a pallet of supplies he’s prepared for delivery to another county at the food bank’s headquarters in Evansville . (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

With many federal workers missing paychecks and federal food assistance money about to run out, area food agencies are gearing up for increased need.

Poverty Resistance Food Pantry manager Billy Brown says he’s already feeling the ripple effects as the partial government shutdown approaches day 30.

“So far this week I’ve had two federal employees come in,” said Brown. “We don’t ask for ID…so unless they say they work for the federal government, we won’t know.”

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The number of people coming into Poverty Resistance over the past week has doubled according to Brown, but he can’t say if some or all of it is coincidental or directly related to the shutdown.

A man leaves with a sack of onions at the Poverty Resistance Food Pantry on Friday, Jan. 18, in Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

However, he is bracing for even more demand as Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds run out.

This week, the DFS released February’s SNAP benefits early before funding dried up. Families won’t receive benefits in February, and funding for future benefits won’t be available until the fight in Washington is resolved.

Wyoming Food for Thought executive director Jamie Purcell works with food-insecure families all of the time. She worries people might not know how to budget after an early influx of SNAP assistance.

“Our fear is that by mid-February, we’re going to have a lot of people lining up at food pantries who normally don’t go because they can usually manage their SNAP benefits,” said Purcell.

Purcell also fears many people won’t understand that the early benefits are for February, not a bonus.

Wyoming Food for Thought’s weekly winter market starts this Saturday, where they accept the Double Up Food Bucks program to help SNAP recipients purchase more locally grown food at reduced costs.

Purcell says Food for Thought will continue to concentrate on their Weekend Food Bag program that helps keep food-insecure kids fed when school’s out, and will expand outreach so families know about it.

Nearly all food pantries in Wyoming participate with Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies, based in Evansville just east of Casper.

The Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies’ warehouse in Evansville spans about 28,000 square feet. The organization centralized there from two other locations last July. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

“Right now we’re still thriving and have not been affected by the government shutdown,” said Brienne Jewkes, Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies program manager. “What we’ve done since the shutdown is we’ve let our partner agencies know that we expect an increased need for food.

“Once the government shut down at the end of last year, we knew that we’d have to be stepping up our efforts,” said Jewkes. “As it’s prolonged, we’ve tried to make sure we’re increasing our mobile pantry distributions across the state.”

The pantries are “free and open to the public,” according to Jewkes, which would make them a good resource for furloughed federal employees.

In addition to the mobile pantry, the organization contracts with the state for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) that helps provide food to Wyoming pantries for people who receive SNAP benefits.

People who have run out of SNAP benefits have the option to receive TEFAP commodities from their area partnering food pantry, said Jewkes.

Poverty Resistance gets a share of donated supplies from the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies. However, manager Billy Brown is preparing to buy extra stock in the coming days, which will stretch the pantry’s budget.

“It’s going to get real bad before the end of the month,” Brown said.