TORRINGTON – ‘They need to do something.’
That’s something you hear a lot. For every issue, there’s a ‘they’ who should be held accountable. Roads are rough? ‘They should do something.’ A family loses their possessions in a fire? ‘They ought to do something to help.’
Homelessness? Hunger? Crime?
‘They need to do something.’
Over the past few years, Kyle Borger and Goshen Help have emerged to fill in some of the holes where ‘they’ need to something. What started out as a mission to end hunger in Goshen County has expanded since its humble birth in 2015, when it began hosting a mobile food trailer from the Food Bank of the Rockies. Today, GH can provide temporary emergency assistance to families in need and extensive family case management services, in addition to its main goal – combating hunger.
Now, Goshen Help offers its own stationary food bank in its new office on Main Street, and shoppers have choices – meat, bagged salads, produce – whatever they need to make it through the week. Over the past year, GH has distributed more than 140,000 pounds of food to people in the community.
“With the mobile food truck, we didn’t have enough storage space and we were trying to put out enough food to help cover everybody in the community and the county,” Borger said. “We now have enough storage that we can bring it here and it’s actually cut our food cost in half.”
Goshen Help moved to its new offices at 1933 Main Street in Torrington on Oct. 1. The new home of Goshen Help has room for the non-profit to grow, Borger said, while providing a better experience for people who utiltilize the food pantry.
“We were able to secure it for a reasonable rent rate,” he said. “We had sufficient donations and we have sufficient pledges and sponsorships for this year that we’re confident that we can handle the increased rent. It’s a better environment and in reality the space will allow us to better serve our customers.”
Borger said the increased square footage has allowed Goshen Help to increase the food pantry’s selection for less money. In the beginning, it would cost $2,000 every time the mobile food trailer came to town. Borger’s been able to slash that rate, while providing different and healthier options by using a shopper’s choice system that allows the customer to choose what food they take from the pantry.
Food pantry customers receive points based on their family size, and each product in the pantry is assigned a point value.
“Now, I can order off of the truck as needed because when we’re doing shoppers choice, they get so many points that they can shop with and they’re only taking the food they actually want, versus with the truck we didn’t have enough storage,” he said. “We had to make sure that all the food went away. We had people who were walking away with cases of food. Now, we can store it and it goes out as it’s needed.”
Borger recently began working with Fresh Foods and Main Street Market to rescue groceries that have passed their sell-by date. The products can’t be sold on store shelves after that date, but they can still feed people.
“What we get from the grocery stores is what they can no longer sell based on the sell-by dates, but it’s still fresh and nutritious food,” Borger said. “Normally, it would’ve gone into the dumpster or out to a pig farmer or something like that. Now we can bring it in and we’ve got another week to hand it out. The frozen meats can last a lot longer.”
In the Goshen Help system, the healthier items – produce and bagged salads saved from the dumpster – don’t have a point value.
“No points and no limits,” Borger said. “That’s our healthy food, so we’re trying to make the healthier food
The new location has also made it possible for GH to open twice a week, as opposed to just once a month, as it was previously. Shoppers do need to call ahead for an appointment, but Borger said that helps Goshen Help’s volunteers keep track of the food stock. It also provides shoppers with more time and privacy to utilize the service.
“The reason why we do that is we discovered if we don’t have appointments, everybody’s going to try to show up the first 10 minutes,” Borger said. “Being on Main Street, we don’t want lines down the hallway and lines out the door. Parking is limited so we do four people every half hour.
“That way we keep parking regulated. We keep people out of the hallways and it doesn’t become a nuisance to our neighbors and you don’t have to wait.”
Borger said there’s actually been a decline in shoppers since the appointments went into place, but said it is still the best way to run the pantry.
“I guess there’s anonymity in the crowd, but it’s also a more spur of the moment thing – if you want to go, you go,” he said. “We’re not taking appointments the same day. You have to call ahead. It’s just logistics of being able to print the schedule and have it available for our volunteers to make it easy for them. They don’t have a computer system to go through. All they have to do is verify that your name is on the list and tell you how much food you get.”
The new location and its additional space has allowed Goshen Help to expand its services. Now it can do more than fill in the gaps - it can work to find a solution to the issue.
When Goshen Help was formed in 2015, the Northwest Wyoming Community Action Program was the organizing body for efforts to defeat hunger in Goshen County. Borger said NOWCAP did what it could, but it was also tasked with serving 13 other counties. It’s difficult to solve a problem when there are so many, in so many different places.
“When the state approached me, their concern was shifting away from simply writing a check, which doesn’t really address the cause – it’s only addressing the crisis,” Borger said. “I need to shift the focus to where we address not only the cause within the family, but the cause within the community. Ultimately, we’re working towards addressing the underlying issues in Goshen County as a whole. One of the things that we haven’t really communicated much – because last year we didn’t really understand what was happening – is what we’re developing into. It’s called a community action agency.”
Goshen Help offers two other services in addition to the pantry, both with the goal of addressing the underlying issues that cause hunger. One of those is the Emergency Services Program, which helps people with a variety of short-term needs.
“The focus on emergency services is trying to help people who are in crisis but need just a little bit of help and then they’re going to be good,” Borger said. “So emergency services might be a hotel stay. It could be some money for a utility payment. It could be a little bit of money towards the rent payment. It could be some transportation assistance. It’s just handling that immediate crisis and once you’re done with it then you’re pretty much good.”
The emergency program is limited to once a year, or twice in a five-year period. If a client needs more than that, then they need more than short-term assistance and that’s where Goshen Help’s third service, case management, can help.
“If you’re coming back more than once in a year or multiple times multiple years, then it wasn’t immediately solved. It is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed which will better be addressed in case management,” Borger said.
Case management clients have to be accepted into the program through an application process that requires income verification and an interview. Once they’re accepted, case management offers guidance and resources to help clients become more self-sufficient.
“We require an interview, and we will require them to go through a qualification process because those who are going to go through case management want to address whatever the issues are that are causing them to struggle or to need help,” Borger said. “It may be that we go through their finances and figure out what their finances are, what their expenses are, incomes, where they would like to be. The people who are taken into case management want to get better and they want to be in a better life situation, so we help them to come up with a life plan.”
Borger said Goshen Help will only handle a limited number of case management clients. It can provide a wide range of services, but the goal is always the same – self-sustenance.
“Where do you want to be? What does that look like? What resources do you need to get there? We have to see if we have a resource available. It could be helping them to get a better job. It could be helping them to get more education.”
The future of Goshen Help will have a huge impact in the community – and it will also be determined by the community.
Borger said the organizations expansion is all up to the community – both in what the community needs, and how much it can give. Borger said the community collectively donated $42,000 to the cause last year, but with the expanded services and new space, it will need even more in the future.
“We exceeded our budget for last year for local donations, but we’re increasing that expectation quite a bit in order to manage what we’re doing,” he said. “That’s a significant amount in local donations, primarily because our food pantry is run completely off of volunteers and local donations so that we don’t have to do income qualifications.
“Most of the grant programs that provide food assistance, you have to qualify as low income. Why that’s important is we have a lot of families who make just enough to not qualify for SNAP or for other federal programs based on their income, but their rent is eating up a ton of their income and so they struggle to have enough food.”
Borger said Goshen Help is morphing into a community action program, and future expansions will be dictated by what the community needs.
“Ten years from now, it will probably look completely different than where we are now, but the idea behind it is that as we change, we change based on what the needs are in the community,” he said. “I want to know what the community as a whole is saying needs to be done. The way we operate is meant to bring in community participation in finding solutions with the community as a whole.”
In the future that could mean providing affordable housing or a clinic, but for now, Goshen Help is doing what it can to help the community at the present.
“Right now, we’re focusing on what’s right in front of us and what the community is saying is the biggest need, but there’s the potential to be able to develop those types of structures and programming,” Borger said.