A whisper of wind cut the skin of the volunteers as chilly sheets of rain and small hail attacked the hoods of a mile-long line of vehicles. Donned in face masks and gloves, workers dodged the hail and used empty boxes to shield themselves from the rain.
The intermittent rain, hail and wind couldn’t stop them. Some grabbed bare cardboard boxes, while others stuffed the food into them, before more volunteers crammed the laden packages into trunk after trunk.
Minutes later, the sky cleared. Whether they were wet with rain or sweat, nobody stopped working . . . or smiling.
Food Bank of the Rockies Wyoming’s mobile food distribution at the State Fairgrounds came at the right moment apparently. Hundreds of residents lined up in their cars for the free food, all because of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on Converse County and the oil, gas and coal industries in two short months.
The impact – and overwhelming need –couldn’t have been more telling than it was Saturday afternoon.
The community came together to run the food drive as more than 20 members of county government, Douglas Volunteer Fire Department, county Emergency Management, Solutions For Life, Douglas Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Highway Patrol volunteered.
As vehicles snaked down the fairground’s Cowboy Drive entrance, they split into two lines near the grandstands, where drivers were asked the number of adults, seniors, and children in their household for statistics. Those in line were also able to pick up boxes for other families and friends, and many did that.
Windshields were marked with the number of boxes needed.
The cars were directed toward a set of tables adorned with colorful food, where volunteers packed the containers to them. The boxes included essential foods like fruits, vegetables and eggs.
Volunteers at another set of tables prepared frozen food.
Public Health Response Coordinator Johnna Shepherd helped oversee the event.
“For COVID, this was super important because the oilfield is down,” she said, “North Antelope had 170 people off work, and that trickles down to the waitresses. All the food industries are hit because of COVID and because the major employers have cut back.”
Converse County Commissioner and U.S. Senate candidate Robert Short, who spent the nearly three hours loading food boxes into vehicles, said, “I think today went spectacular, quite honestly.
“This is a great group of people that came together to serve folks in need. And I cannot think of a more worthwhile way to spend our Saturday than helping people who have been dramatically impacted by COVID and the downturn in oil, as well as what we’ve experienced in coal being under constant assault.”
Although the food drive was scheduled to end at 3 p.m., volunteers spent nearly an extra hour packing boxes with cucumbers, bananas and anything else that was left. The drive ended when the food ran out.
“We had a really successful food donation,” Shepherd said modestly. The numbers told a more impressive story.
Carried by a semi-truck and trailer, 23,948 pounds of food was given to the community, feeding 904 people within 293 households.