In September of 2021, the Mountain West Credit Union Foundation launched Credit Unions for Hunger Relief™ (CUHR), which encouraged credit unions to impact food insecurity in their local communities. It was initially created to help food banks across the tri-state region the Foundation represents. In the first round of donations, MWCUA delivered $30,000 to the Wyoming Hunger Initiative, a project spearheaded by First Lady Jennie Gordon.
The First Lady invited Atlantic City Federal Credit Union’s CEO Brian Rohrbacher and three other Wyoming CEOs to a luncheon to discuss how the donated monies would be distributed. During that meeting, the concept of a further Wyoming partnership was born. Partnering once again with Wyoming First Lady Jennie Gordon and her Wyoming Hunger Initiative, Rohrbacher committed his credit union’s help in eliminating student lunch debt – initially in local Fremont County and eventually for all of Wyoming’s students.
Debts Were Rising
Seven hundred twenty-five families in Fremont County benefitted from the program, as the school system received $10,120 to erase all negative lunch balances.
School lunch debt across the state stood at $99,485 in its entirety and represented over 3,000 families in need. Food insecurity had been an issue before COVID-19, but the stressors arising from the pandemic had exacerbated the situation. Although schools made efforts to feed children who had fallen behind in their payments, the challenge was growing more difficult by the day. Eliminating school lunch debt gave struggling parents a fresh start and allowed the children to have access to healthy meals without the shame some were experiencing. All program participants were dedicated to taking the
burden of school lunch debt off the children’s shoulders.
Rohrbacher enlisted the help of thirteen credit unions across the region, who committed just under $24,000 to the statewide program. The matching donation from CUHR brought the total contributions from the credit unions to $43,000. Private donations from local business professionals paid off the remainder of the debt.
“Student lunch debt is a tremendous stress on the families, schools, and communities,” Rohrbacher said. “This initiative gave us a springboard to work together across our entire state to provide much-needed relief and to help students in need. We are especially thankful to First Lady Gordon and her team for their collaboration and coordination to help manage the logistics of paying off the debt.”
Dr. Dan Santangelo, Executive Director of the Mountain West Credit Union Foundation, stated that Rohrbacher’s project is precisely the type of initiative that the CUHR was designed to inspire. “By working together and pooling our money, we’ve been able to make a significant contribution to help offset food insecurity in the state of Wyoming. This is just the beginning, and we are excited to do much more as this program grows.” This is a sentiment shared by all parties, as Rohrbacher has indicated a hope that he and his colleagues can continue to work with the First Lady in the future.
Participation of the Credit Unions Was Key
Rohrbacher points out that the partnership with the First Lady illustrates CU’s commitment to their communities and members in need. The thirteen credit unions that participated in the program include:
Atlantic City Federal Credit Union
Blue Federal Credit Union
Campco Federal Credit Union
First Education Federal Credit Union
Meridian Trust/MT Northstar Foundation
Pathfinder Federal Credit Union
Reliant Federal Credit Union
Sheridan Community Federal Credit Union
StagePoint Federal Credit Union
Trona Valley Federal Credit Union
UniWyo Federal Credit Union
Western Vista Federal Credit Union
WyHy Federal Credit Union
“We are incredibly grateful to the credit unions in the state who stepped in to help pay off this debt,” First Lady Gordon said. “This represents the impact we can have when we commit to doing something. We may not be able to do everything, but we can all do something. Together, we have the opportunity to make great strides in our state.” – Jennie Gordon