Wyoming’s first lady aims to reduce hunger and food insecurity
for The Fence Post
Wyoming First Lady Jennie Gordon has seen children in her home state who experience hunger and food instability and is working to shine a spotlight on what’s working across the state.
Gordon’s parents were both raised in abject poverty, her father in the Midwest during the Great Depression. Her mother was raised in World War II era Vienna, Austria, and after coming to the states at the age of 26, never forgot what it was to be hungry. Gordon, who is one of 10 children, was raised with what she calls just enough to eat by parents who reminded them of how fortunate they were, never to waste, and to help others if they were ever in a position to do so.
Gordon was raised in Omaha, eventually beginning a career in medical technology selling and repairing laboratory equipment. That changed once she married her husband and moved to the ranch east of Buffalo, Wyo. Looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the operation that would allow her to stay home rather than making the rounds through a huge sales territory, she began taking on the bookkeeping tasks. Her approach of learning the ranch’s business from the book side was supported by her willingness to learn. She attended numerous classes and conferences including Ranching for Profit and Extension courses.
“When Mark was appointed our state treasurer, I realized that he would be gone full-time and I needed to step up,” she said.
She admits there was some trial and error and said she doesn’t know the business as well as many ranchers, but she is determined to continue learning. As first lady, she is also pulled away from the ranch more and they depend upon the ranch manager and are there whenever possible to help with major tasks. The family runs the main ranch near Buffalo and his father’s ranch in partnership with his sister in Kaycee. Today, she said she draws strength from her parents’ stories who, much like on the ranch, involve the strength to get things accomplished.
HOW IT WORKS
In her just-released Wyoming Hunger Initiative, Gordon said there are over 71,000 residents who struggle with food insecurity and, of those, about 23,000 are children. That, she said, is nearly enough to fill the University of Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium. The Initiative works with school districts, organizations, and communities to find solutions that work for each community.
As Gordon traveled the state during the gubernatorial campaign, she saw not only hunger close to home but also the local solutions communities employed to deal with it. In Laramie, she said the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies sends Grocery Rescue refrigerated trucks to retail establishments, including restaurants, caterers, and grocery stores, to pickup surplus food. The food, never served to patrons, has been handled according to food safety standards and can be then distributed to people who need it.
One group, referred to as the chicken ladies, picks up discarded produce to utilize as chicken feed and in turn, donates eggs back to the food bank. This program is a favorite of the first lady’s partially due to the role of agriculture and the lack of waste.
Friday Food Bags or Totes of Hope, another program in place in various communities, provides bags of kid-friendly, easy to prepare food to school-aged students on Fridays. Each bag costs less than a fancy cup of coffee and has enough food for a family of four for the weekend until the students again have access to school nutrition programs. The Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies distributes more than 54,000 of these bags and other variations of the program are in place across the state.
Her hope is that ultimately, the solution will involve production agriculture and hunting, both industries important to the state. She hopes to highlight and support programs that promote locally produced food in schools and also work with hunters who come to the state but don’t want to take the meat that could ultimately be donated, as well.
Her first priority is to make people aware of the problem and aware that the problem is often not a case of a “lazy parent” but a parent unable to make ends meet with part-time jobs and no insurance, for example. Gordon doesn’t want to see Wyoming grow a generation of children suffering from the emotional and physical toll of food insecurity. Her hope is that her Wyoming neighbors will share, whether that is financial donation, time, the stories of people, and support of the groups already in communities working to solve the problem.
“Ultimately, I would love to have a role for production agriculture and any other solutions Wyoming has that make sense for the communities they’re in,” she said.
The Wyoming Hunger Initiative website is nomorehungerwyo.org. F