Bar Bucks

Bar Bucks sit scattered across the bar at the Fraternal Order of Eagles 128. Photo courtesy of Talitha Heckman

CHEYENNE – Every year, Cheyenne residents and local businesses step up to make the holidays a little brighter for families in need by participating in the Laramie County Community Christmas program.

And after breaking the record for money raised and meals provided last year, the community came out in full swing to raise an unprecedented amount again this holiday season. The $59,288 raised by the community will be used to help people in a tough situation buy food for a holiday meal later this year and beyond.

The funds for Community Christmas were raised through the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Empty Stocking Fund and the Bar Bucks program that a majority of local bars and restaurants participate in. Those in need can apply for and receive a $50 gift card to pay for a holiday meal at Safeway, Albertsons and, more recently, Texas Trail Mart in Pine Bluffs.

“For that many businesses to come together in that short period of time and make this happen, it is incredible,” Community Christmas organizer Tony Janssen said.

Last month, 1,200 gift cards were distributed to those who needed them. And while Community Christmas also hands out gift cards to groups like the COMEA House homeless shelter, Janssen said the number of direct requests for cards this year was the highest so far due to a streamlined application process.

“This year, more than any year before, we’re giving it to the people who need it,” Janssen said.

The Bar Bucks fundraising portion also reached an all-time high this year.

Over a four-week period, more than 40 local businesses helped raise more than $39,000 for the Bar Bucks program, beating the previous record by $3,833.

For the past two years, Talitha Heckman has taken the lead for Bar Bucks fundraising, and Janssen points to her drive and dedication for the program’s recent success. Most bars and restaurants have participated in the program for years, which Heckman said makes the job a little bit easier.

And while a few new businesses raised money for the program this year, Heckman said the record-breaking donations can be attributed to the same businesses “doing what they do best.”

“I think a lot of them know people who benefit from the program, so it’s kind of something that’s special to them,” Heckman said. “It’s really a way for them to give back to the community.”

Alf’s Pub and Package Liquor raked in the most donations of any business, with a total of $8,000, and Amvets Post 10 was named the top fundraising bar with a total of $5,600. The bars and restaurants are strong fundraisers, but Janssen said they’re always looking for more ways to help local businesses bring in more donations.

“We love every dollar, but what else can we do to keep expanding the program?” Janssen asked.

For the last two years, Community Christmas staff have been broadening the program’s horizons, setting their sights on communities like Pine Bluffs. Local businesses started participating in the program, and Texas Trail Mart, one of the town’s grocery stores, offered the program cost savings for gift cards for rural residents.

The program has grown substantially over the years, and Janssen hopes to keep expanding.

“It’s not just Cheyenne,” Janssen said. “It’s everywhere inside the county.”

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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