A Party with a Cause at Packing Out Hunger

A Party with a Cause at Packing Out Hunger

Volunteers at Packing Out Hunger package individual meals that will be distributed throughout Wyoming. SweetwaterNOW photo by David Martin.

ROCK SPRINGS – Sweetwater County residents packed 60,000 meals Saturday as part of the annual Pack Out Hunger event at the Sweetwater County Events Complex.

This year, 250 volunteers filled the events complex, packing a southwest chile black beans and rice meal consisting of a seasoning packet, dried vegetables, black beans, and rice. The meals can be used as a solo dish or combined with other ingredients to create more complex meals. The Pack Shack, an Arkansas-based nonprofit that provides food and organizes food packing events like Pack Out Hunger, says the cooked meal can be combined with shredded cheese and stuffed into red and green peppers, then baked.

According to Danica Sveda, the development manager for Food Bank of Wyoming, the 60,000 meals would almost be enough to give every person facing food insecurity in Wyoming a meal. Food insecurity is defined by either not knowing where a person’s next meal will come from, or not knowing how a person will provide themselves or their family with a nutritious meal. Sveda said 63,000 Wyomingites face food insecurity, citing statistics from Feeding America. She said a person’s food budget is typically the most flexible part of their budget, saying items like rent, utilities, medication, and other bills often come first, which results in them opting to buy lower-quality food or skip meals all together.

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Packing Out Hunger is in its sixth year and is the third initiative hosted by Western Wyoming Beverages to address food inequality in the area. The other events are the Cans for Cans food drive and the School Lunch Payoff. Packing Out Hunger began when Sean Valentine, president and CEO of Western Wyoming Beverages, attended a similar event in Nashville for Anheuser-Busch.

“At that moment, I knew I had to bring it to Rock Springs,” he said.

Valentine said he contacted The Pack Shack, which had helped organize the event in Nashville, and brought the concept to Wyoming. The first year, Packing Out Hunger provided 27,000 meals and has grown to providing 50,000 meals each following year. Overall, Valentine said the event has provided more than 300,000 meals to Wyomingites.

This year, the event packaged 60,000 meals because of donations made by State Farm Insurance Agent Amber Kramer, Alliance Physical Therapy, and an anonymous donor. Valentine said other companies, such as Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch, have aided the event as well, along with several community organizations. He said they have had to turn volunteers away because they couldn’t fit more workers in the space they had at the events complex.

Over the course of roughly two hours, the volunteers measured, sealed, and boxed meals that will go to the 23 Wyoming counties, all to dance party-like atmosphere. Along with a party mix of music and encouragement to dance as they worked, a few volunteers would be brought to a main state overlooking the packing stations to bang a gong to signify a packing milestone the group reached. The joyful atmosphere was easily seen on the volunteers’ faces as they smiled and danced as they worked.

“This is my favorite day of the year,” Valentine said. “This is so much fun.”