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Jennie Gordon

First Lady’s Hunger Initiative Helping Wyoming Children With Food Insecurity

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Before Jennie Gordon became Wyoming’s First Lady, she had a transformative experience during a conversation with a friend while grocery shopping.

“About seven years ago, I ran into a friend who was shopping in Albertsons, and she had two carts full,” Gordon said, explaining that she was curious the abnormally large amount of food her friend was buying.

“Well, I’m doing Friday Food Bags,” Gordon’s friend told her. “‘We pack up food for kids that can’t quite get through the weekend because there’s no food in their home.’” 

“And I said, ‘Oh, how many kids are you doing?’ She said, ‘500,’ Gordon said. “And my jaw just hit the floor. And I said, ‘How can I help?’”

A few years later, Jennie Gordon was able to make good on that offer, when her husband, Mark, was elected governor of Wyoming. Once she became the state’s First Lady, Gordon launched the Wyoming Hunger Initiative, a program that allows for increased collaboration and community participation in the fight against childhood hunger.

According to the project’s website, one in five children in the state struggles with food insecurity – the uncertainty of where and when they might get their next meal. That’s 23,500 children right here in Wyoming.

“We are in all 23 counties,” Gordon told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “We really just support programs that are already in existence around the state that fight food insecurity. We are working with children’s groups, with veterans groups, seniors groups and just families and pantries that are serving folks that are struggling during this time.” 

Gordon was in Cody on Friday to meet with representatives of Park County food banks and checking in with organizations that have either benefited from grants facilitated by the Hunger Initiative or which collaborate with the agency to feed Wyoming families in need.

Gordon said that just last week, the Hunger Initiative distributed $110,000 to food banks around Wyoming – money that does not come from state coffers, but from private donations.

“We accept no state or federal funding, but we have individual donors, corporate donors, and then there are some family foundations that have donated to the Hunger Initiative,” she said, “because they’re not sure which organizations to support, and they know we support the entire state.”

Audrey Schein and her husband, Dan, lead the crew of volunteers that runs the Cody Cupboard, which provides food to around 120 needy families and individuals in Park County each month, around 400 people, according to Schein. 

“They can come into the cupboard and shop from the items that we have here, proteins, vegetables when they’re in season, and other non-perishable items that they can take home for their family,” she said.

Schein added that in addition to allowing families and individuals to stock up from the Cupboard’s shelves, funding from the Initiative allows clients to purchase items that they don’t keep on-site.

“We received a donation from the Initiative for breakfast items,” Schein noted. “And we provide vouchers for our clients to obtain bread, milk and eggs, and things like that.”

For food pantries like the Cody Cupboard, the funding from the Hunger Initiative allows them to make capital purchases which local donations just wouldn’t cover.

“We were able to secure grants to obtain new refrigeration and freezer equipment to keep our perishable items fresh for all of our clients who come to visit the cupboard,” Schein said. “Plus, we’ve also received other grants from the Hunger Initiative that allowed us to provide food to our clients.” 

Schein said without the services provided by the Cody Cupboard, many people in Cody would go hungry.

“It’s the difference between making it to the end of the month for seniors, for young families,” she said. “With prices increasing, the choice between rent and utilities and health care expenses and food, make some families and seniors have to make some difficult choices.” 

Gordon said that funding is the number one resource that the Hunger Initiative provides to food pantries – from there, the individual organizations can secure the needed items from a variety of sources, including the Food Bank of the Rockies, local grocery stores, and some meat-processing facilities. But donations from local citizens help to fill the gaps.

“If you have any non-perishable foods that are easy to store and not expired, they are happy to take them,” Gordon said, “As well as farmers or ranchers that may have an animal that they want to donate. And the Hunger Initiative can help by paying for the processing, if it’s state or USDA inspected.”

Gordon said that supply chain issues and other COVID-related difficulties have made it harder for food banks to keep up with demand.

“At first, there were a lot of people who wanted to donate,” Gordon said, regarding the onset of the pandemic. “But now what we’re seeing is people, they’re back to work. But maybe they’re stretched now because they don’t have any extra.”

Gordon said that donations have declined all over the state in recent months, while the need remains high. 

“We just wrote another grant, actually, we’re hoping to get it today,” she said. “And then we’ll do some more replenishment money throughout the state (to purchase food for the pantries).”

Gordon stressed, however, that it’s neighbors helping neighbors that makes the biggest difference.

“Every county and every community knows how to serve their people best,” she said. “Some people do feedings where they cook for the community, some people have pantries, Boys and Girls Clubs feed some people, grow gardens, and feed with the produce. So it’s just really, all hands on deck, and different ways to approach the problem.”

Gordon said, from her perspective, the Hunger Initiative has created an opportunity for Wyoming people to help one another.

“Get on the website, and click on your county so you can see which organizations are feeding people. Call them up, see if you can either volunteer or donate to them and just get involved because you know, Wyoming has great neighbors and we all want to help people in need.”

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No More Sandwich of Shame: First Lady, Donors Wipe Out Wyoming’s School Lunch Debt

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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.”

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First Lady Jennie Gordon Hosting Trick Or Treating Event At Gov’s Residence

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By Ellen Fike and Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

For Governor Gordon’s sake, it’s a good thing that kids aren’t voters.

Word that trick-or-treaters will be able to go back to the Governor’s Residence after a year’s hiatus due to Covid could be seen as a pretty exciting news event.

That is, until you hear what type of candy will be distributed. Or not be distributed.

Parents might be thrilled to hear that pre-packaged fruit or trail mix will be handed out by First Lady Jennie Gordon.

The trick-or-treaters might feel differently, however.

The Candy Industry reports that Wyoming’s favorite trick-or-treat item is a Snickers bar.

The Snickers bar is so beloved that, according to a popular cartoon that circulates this time of year, it even tamed the Grim Reaper.

But, of course the gracious thing to do is be thankful that the state’s chief executive is opening the residence to all-comers on Halloween from 5-7 p.m.

“The first lady will be here to hand out treats to each family that comes through,” Gordon’s spokeswoman Trista Ostrom told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “We will set up outside at the end of the walk way so that families can drive through if they wish or they can park and walk up to trick or treat. She purchases candy items locally to distribute.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, not the most popular man in Wyoming, recently announced that he believed it was safe for children to trick or treat this year.

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Wyoming’s First Lady Jennie Gordon Tests Positive For COVID-19; Gov Gordon Recovered

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In a very short press release, Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced on Thursday that First Lady Jennie Gordon has tested positive for COVID-19.

The one paragraph announcement also mentioned that Gov. Gordon has “recovered” from the illness and is “nearly symptom-free.”

“They have been in quarantine together since November 20th. The First Lady is only experiencing minor symptoms at this time,” the release said.

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