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CHEYENNE – When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Laramie County, the needs in the community increased greatly. Nonprofits and community service organizations saw a huge jump in demand for their services as the economy slowed and unemployment rates skyrocketed due to COVID-19-related closures.

At St. Joseph’s Food Pantry, they doubled the volume of food to meet the demand of residents. Safehouse Services saw an increased amount of requests for assistance, as domestic violence tends to increase with stressors like economic hardship and, in this instance, quarantine.

While Safehouse, St. Joseph’s and other service agencies adjusted their operations to serve the greatest number of people during the pandemic, they could still use the community’s help going forward. Residents will have the chance to donate what they can during a drive-thru Day of Giving, set for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Kiwanis Community House.

Safehouse Director Carla Thurin said, “We all need to just sit back and realize what we need to do for our neighbors and help our family and friends out, because everybody’s struggling a little. And we just don’t know how much our neighbors, family members or our friends are struggling.”

The original Day of Giving was scheduled for May 8, but had to be postponed due to COVID-19. In 2019, the Cheyenne Day of Giving collected 23,334 pounds of nonperishable food and personal care items for local nonprofits, so the Day of Giving board decided to hold a virtual Day of Giving in an attempt to give nonprofits and service agencies a boost.

When St. Joseph’s Renee Gamino couldn’t tap into the resources from the Food Bank of the Rockies as quickly as she wanted to, the financial donations given to St. Joseph’s Food Pantry from the virtual Day of Giving helped hold them over.

“Because of the Day of Giving donation, we were actually able to go ahead and go to Costco, and one of our volunteers and his wife volunteered to go buy bulk items like rice, beans, canned vegetables and stuff like that,” Gamino said.

St. Joseph’s had to switch to a drive-thru operation toward the start of the pandemic as they worked to meet the increased demand. The high demand has been seen across the board for other food resources like The Salvation Army and Needs Inc. At Needs, Cheyenne’s largest food pantry, they’ve seen a large group of people seeking assistance for the first time.

“You never know when you’re going to be in this position where you find yourself unemployed, trying to pinch pennies and faith,” Gamino said.

Additionally, a number of nonprofits receive some government funding for the services they provide, which has been affected by the pandemic.

Safehouse’s Thurin said, “Because of COVID-19, our state took a massive hit on financials, and it trickles downhill because we do get some state funding. So we took a huge deduction in what we get from the state.”

A number of agencies also had to cancel their fundraising events due to coronavirus health concerns, as well as spend more money on COVID-19 adjustments. Family Promise, a nonprofit that houses homeless families in local churches, had to pay for hotel rooms instead during the pandemic. Magic City, which helps adults with developmental disabilities, and the COMEA House and Resource Center homeless shelter both had to invest in things like thermometers and disinfecting supplies.

But even in the midst of so many difficulties to overcome, many nonprofits and service agencies supported by Day of Giving have voiced their appreciation for the community’s support. While the demands have increased, and many are working with fewer resources, nonprofit leaders said donations, awareness and support have helped them rise to the challenge.

When a number of St. Joseph’s volunteers were unable to help during the pandemic because they were high-risk, a group of teachers from St. Mary’s School stepped up to fill the gaps after school went virtual.

“Our community is really awesome,” Gamino said.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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