By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Through the work of first lady Jennie Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative and some generous donors from around the state, Wyoming no longer has any school lunch debt, Gordon announced on Wednesday.
The first lady held a news conference on Wednesday at the governor’s residence in Cheyenne to announce the elimination of the state’s school lunch debt and the launch of the Wyoming Angel Accounts program.
“Wyomingites know how to help their neighbors,” Gordon said.
A total school lunch debt of $105,653.32 at the state’s 28 school districts was eliminated through the efforts of Gordon, the Mountain West Credit Union Foundation, the Ellbogen Foundation and Dan and Cynthia Starks, the owners of the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois. The first lady also noted that Gov. Mark Gordon has donated his monthly salary to the program.
The payment cleared the debt for 3,224 students in the state.
Gordon said that she learned about the issues surrounding school lunches when a food service worker told her it was a significant problem in some schools.
“Some of the schools were taking measures that were meant to get the debt paid, but really put the child squarely in the middle,” she said. “I learned that often, they were given an alternative meal, a cheese sandwich when the balance was negative, but some students were refusing the sandwich and others called it the ‘sandwich of shame.'”
Gordon explained that the Starks and Mountain West Credit Union Foundation actually got the ball rolling on the initiative when they paired up to pay off the school lunch debt in Fremont County in September, a total of $10,239 for 725 students.
“They doubled down and asked what the debt was for the rest of the state,” she said. “So that bodacious idea of paying off our lunch debt, on this day, became a reality.”
According to information shared by the Wyoming Angel Accounts program, 75% of school districts in Wyoming have reported school lunch debt.
Going forward, corporate investments into the Angel accounts will be contributed to schools in the donor’s county of choice as a tax-deductible donation.
Dan Starks complimented the first lady on Wednesday for her work to end food insecurity in the state.
“There isn’t a more compassionate, articulate, dedicated champion of making sure that children in the state of Wyoming don’t go hungry and makes sure there isn’t any undue stress on the family [than Jennie Gordon],” he said. “Your credibility made it very easy for us to say whatever we contribute, we know it will be well-spent.”