CHEYENNE– After an unexpectedly successful 2020 installment of Laramie County’s largest and longest running charity event, the Community Christmas program is adapting to the community’s needs.
Since 2018, rather than distributing pre-assembled meals, the nonprofit has supplied those in need with $50 gift cards to fund their own shopping desires.
After assessing the rising cost of food, organizers for Laramie County Community Christmas decided to increase the gift cards’ value to $60 each. This makes for a total of $72,000 across 1,200 cards.
“We found out that if we went with last year’s number of $50, it was going to be very difficult for a person to [buy the food they needed],” Anthony Janssen, Community Christmas organizer, said. “We increased the amount on the card to relieve a little stress from those that might be getting impacted with the various things that the pandemic has left over for us.”
By switching to meal cards, the program was not only able to better meet the needs of people in terms of what they’re eating, it also allowed them to cut their overhead to less than 2%. They get a 5% discount on their purchases from partnered grocery stores Albertsons and Safeway, in addition to saving on warehouse space and the actual cost of baskets.
Cutting these costs makes all the difference when it comes to an operation the size of Community Christmas.
While there is a certain demographic that the program aims to help, namely those who steadily live with a lower income, the program can benefit anybody. In 2020, the group that saw a sharp increase in Cheyenne was members of the Wyoming Air National Guard, who were blindsided by being citizen soldiers suddenly out of work.
Program organizers want to encourage people to apply if they need the help, regardless of their situation.
“Our program is so nonintrusive, so once you give us a little information to make our decision point on, we don’t care after that point,” Jenssen said. “We’re going to give you a card so you can have one less thing to worry about.”
Community Christmas is completely run off the work of volunteers and donations through the American Legion’s Bar Bucks and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Empty Stocking Fund programs.
Due to complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of businesses participating in the Bar Bucks program shrunk last year to around 20. But despite the reduced number, they still managed to raise a little over $30,000.
This year, the program is back to 43 participants, and the hope is that the community continues to show such overwhelming support for those in need. Pine Bluffs Distilling, which won the Bar Bucks competition last year, has already raised $6,722 in the past month.
Talitha Heckman, Bar Bucks organizer, has already had several bars request more Bar Bucks since they were issued on Nov. 11.
“A lot of the bars don’t really start contacting us until next week to get extras,” Heckman said. “So some of the bars are already a week ahead of where we anticipated.”
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Empty Stocking Fund drive. Robert S. McCraken, former publisher of the Wyoming Eagle and the Wyoming State Tribune, started the fund in 1962. The program was designed after the Christmas Dinner Fund, created by the newspapers during the Great Depression. The goal for the program was to provide some Christmas cheer for families struggling to make ends meet during the holidays.
“We’re pleased to be able to continue coordinating such an important program for the community,” said WTE Managing Editor Brian Martin. “Over the past 23 years that I have been here, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of Laramie County residents, not just during the holidays, but year-round.
“I know the McCraken family is proud of the legacy they left through this and many other charitable projects, and we’re all thrilled to have Adams Publishing Group continue to support the community in this way.”
Bill Albrecht, regional president of APG of the Rockies, said, “The tradition of the Tribune Eagle’s Empty Stocking Fund drive provides much-needed support for those in need. It also is a good reminder for all of us who can get caught up in the personal and professional issues we face every day that we need to stop for a minute and be thankful for what is in our own stocking. While many things are changing at the WTE, helping support and continuing the Empty Stocking Fund is not one of them.”
Both Jenssen and Heckman attribute the continued success of Community Christmas to the generosity of the community.
“It’s rewarding when you get to hand a card over to that family that really needs it,” Heckman said. “It kind of justifies everything else that happens throughout the year.”