By MARGARET AUSTIN, Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — When the small-but-mighty team behind first lady Jennie Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative heard that the Unaccompanied Students Initiative was having trouble securing healthy, pantry staples for struggling students in Laramie County, they jumped into action to use their food resource connections.

And since being put in touch with the Food Bank of the Rockies about six months ago, Unaccompanied Students Initiative Director Tamara Howard said their organization has been able to secure a steady supply of nutritious food for the students they house who are facing homelessness.

“It’s broadened our cooking night, so we’ve been able to choose different recipes with more than just ramen noodles,” Howard joked.

That collaboration led Howard to nominate the Hunger Initiative for the Compassion-in-Action Award. And for the initiative’s tenacity in helping hungry kids and for Gordon’s vision, the Hunger Initiative was presented the 20th award from Compassionate Cheyenne Wednesday afternoon at the governor’s residence, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.

“This nomination was made in the fall, and there have been so many things since then that the Wyoming Hunger Initiative has done during the pandemic,” Compassionate Cheyenne’s Beth Howard said while presenting the award. “I’d really like to thank you for having the vision to create this even before COVID ever happened. … If you hadn’t had the vision to kick it off before then, you couldn’t have been able to do as much good work as you’ve done since then.”

Through the pandemic, the Hunger Initiative has worked to feed kids through a number of programs, including Food from the Field, which allows hunters to donate their game meat to local food pantries. The Women’s Antelope Hunt offered all participants the ability to donate game from the event for the first time in October, which Gordon called a “Wyoming solution to a Wyoming problem.”

But while the Hunger Initiative has its own programs, its goal isn’t to cover all the bases on its own. Rather, Gordon said it’s these community partnerships that help work toward these solutions.

“That’s really what we want to do – make sure that we’re not reinventing the wheel, but working with organizations like (the Unaccompanied Students Initiative) all throughout the state, augmenting them and getting recognition and heightened awareness,” Gordon said. “I think it’s just what we have to do to feed people in our state.”

It’s that mindset that inspired the Compassionate Cheyenne board to hand out this award to the Hunger Initiative. By recognizing people helping solve problems like food or housing insecurity, the goal is to spread more kindness and caring in the community. For leading by example, each award winner also receives $100 from the Sunrise Rotary Club.

“The work that you do is spreading compassion,” Compassionate Cheyenne’s Rev. Rick Veit said of the Hunger Initiative. “Whether people define it as compassion or not, I think they understand what compassion is just because of the work you do.”

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