Before Peru

My Summer as an AmeriCorps VISTA

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This summer, I was selected as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate for the Wyoming Food for Thought Program (FFT) in Casper, Wyoming. FFT is a local non-profit organization whose mission is “to create an active community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable quality community food system for all Natrona County residents. We believe in cultivating community, as a local solution to childhood hunger through empowerment and educational food access opportunities”. FFT is located in the old Winter Memorial Presbyterian Church in North Casper. FFT is known for its Summer Markets, Summer Feeding Program site, Community Dinners, and the Food Bags that volunteers put together.

Each week during the school year, food bags are taken to most schools in the Casper area and given to kids who don’t get enough to eat at home or only east when they are at school. The food bags consist of donated and rescued food such as canned, boxed, and jarred goods and bagels and bread.

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Pizza Bagels made from rescues bagels and donated tomato sauce (this was my favorite lunch of the summer)

The main duties of theSummer VISTAS is to run the Summer Feeding Program (or Summer Food Service Program) site through FFT. The Summer Feeding Program is a federal program to provide meals and snacks to children who receive free or reduced lunches as school during the school year. Every weekday, we made lunch for neighborhood kids with rescued food. After lunch, we would do activities with the kids such as plant flowers and produce and make goodies for the community dinners. 

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Just a typical day at Summer Feeding at Marion Kreiner Park with a buffet of Oreos!

Every Thursday from 5:00 to 8:00 pm during the summer, FFT holds a Farmer’s Market in conjunction with the Yellowstone Garage and their “Rock the Block” events. Although we were rained out a few times, the Farmer’s Market was a success! Between 400 and 1,700 people attended each market and there were usually venders from all over the state who sold different products, such as milk, eggs, goat cheese, peaches, cherries, breads, coffee, pies, popcorn, lemonade, 

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The FFT booth at the Summer Market every Thursday eveing

slushies, honey, jewelry, clothing, homemade gifts, and more. FFT was able to sell a lot of our fresh-picked produce that we grow, along with pickles, salsa, fruit leather, and dry soup mixes made from our produce or rescued produce. Some of the produce we sold was lettuce, micro greens, cabbage, radishes, beets, carrots, celery, rhubarb tomatoes, broccoli, squash, zucchini, an assortment of herbs, and more. One of my favorite parts of the market is the live demo one of the FFT team members does each week. She is given an allowance of $20 to buy produce and other goods from the venders at the market. She then makes a whole meal out of the things she bough just from the market to show people that it is possible to make healthy and tasty food just from products from the market.

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At the Summer Market, we also set up a kids table where we hand out snacks to the kids that visit the market and do an activity. My favorite activity was “tie-dying” t-shirts that were donated to FFT. We used paper cups, sharpies, and rubbing alcohol to make small tie-dye prints all over the shirts.   

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All of us at FFT in front of the freshly-painted Mobile Market on Parade Day

One of the other jobs for Summer VISTAs was to help conduct a food study of Casper. The USDA Community Food Security Assessment is a tool to help determine whether Casper is in a “food desert”, which are areas with limited healthy and fresh food access. Our job as Summer VISTAs was to survey all the grocery stores in Casper and most of the gas station/convenience stores. We had a list of products, such as bananas, apples, carrots, celery, grape jelly, eggs, milk, cheese, canned beans and mushrooms, ketchup, flour, sugar, and spices, etc., to record the lowest price of each we could find. Surprisingly, each store had much different prices than others. 

Community dinners are held on the third Wednesday of every month. These dinner are a time for people to come socialize and enjoy and free dinner. Dinner is made using rescued and donated food. Community dinners are open to anyone and everyone, any age, any income.

The AmeriCorps NCCC team gutted and painted FFT’s soon-to-be Mobile Market. This video pretty much explains everything to know about the Mobile Market. Video courtesy Wyoming Food for Thought Project and Alyss Smith.

If you would like to donate to the FFT Mobile Market, you can click here. Donations are very much appreciated!

My last day at FFT is August 11th. On August 12th, my Dad and I will travel to Prescott Valley, Arizona to visit my sister one last time before I leave for YAV orientation and Peru on August 21st. Stay tuned for more to come!

Thanks for reading! 

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