The Teton Valley Food Pantry is hoping to honor one of its founders who recently passed away by staying dedicated to it’s core values, even in the face of rising demand.
The pantry, currently residing at 481 N Main St., is now open five days a week to accommodate increased community needs. Staff and volunteers are now serving between 130-150 local families per week.
“We have so many neighbors come in that just need good food. We want to make sure we have sustainable resources to help the people of Teton Valley get the food and nutrition they need,” said Sue Heffron, administrator at the pantry.
Emphasizing the importance of healthy food, Heffron spoke to the value of quality.
It is not feeding people to make them feel full. It’s about nutrition. We take pride in ensuring that everyone is offered fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, milk and eggs, and other items based on dietary and cultural needs,” Heffron continued.
The pantry started in Alta, WY in 2008 as a partnership between St. Francis of the Tetons Episcopal Church and the Rotary Club of Teton Valley with the help of the late Sharon Froberg.
Wanting to give credit where credit is due, Heffron said, “I want to highlight Sharon, who recently passed. Serving as the administrator, Froberg was instrumental in starting the food pantry back in 2008. She had an amazing heart for people and wanted to make sure everyone was fed.”
Anne Fortier, volunteer with the food pantry since 2018, spoke at length about Froberg’s friendship and contributions.
It was a very personal pantry to Froberg. She was not only helping to provide food for people, but a friendship,” Fortier continued. “When I saw that personal touch, I realized it really does need to be a friendly welcoming place. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable going to a pantry. Making that personal connection, which Sharon did so well, was so important.”
I miss her. I miss my friend,” Fortier shared.
Their friendship grew through their times together walking the dogs or having dinner at Agave. “She loved their food.” Fortier said with a laugh.
Fortiered reiterated that Froberg’s passion for her work at the pantry single handedly got people nutritional food.
“When a fridge/freezer combo was donated, she was so excited she could hardly handle it. I think she was more excited than the people coming in that would now be receiving refrigerated goods, like meat, milk, and eggs in addition to other food.”
Froberg’s care for others also came out in the little details.
“She started having cake mixes on hand, so any family member with an upcoming birthday would have the opportunity to bake a birthday cake.”
Fortier thought some of Froberg’s care for others may have stemmed from her experience working in physical therapy, having multiple surgeries, and working through tough recovery time.
“She cared for the well-being of people and saw the value in good health care, recovery, and proper nutrition,” said Fortier.
“She’d get calls from people who couldn’t make it into the pantry, but needed food. Even if the pantry was closed, Sharon would happily take food requests and go out of her way to pick up and even deliver food the same day,” said Fortier.
Fortier got emotional speaking about closing time at the pantry.
“Every day when we would close the doors to the pantry and lock up, Sharon would say, “It always makes me so happy to be able to help people.”
In March 2020 when Froberg retired, Heffron was hired as the pantry administrator and also handed the responsibility of continuing what Froberg helped start.
After spending time with Heffron at the food pantry, it’s easy to see a lot going on at once.
“I feel like everything I’ve done in my life led me to be here at the pantry and to be able to juggle as many balls in the air that this position requires.” said Heffron.
And juggling it is. Answering the phone, greeting people with a smile at the door, ordering food, organizing food drives, filling out orders, loading/unloading vehicles, and the list goes on. Heffron and the volunteers stay busy serving the community five days a week.
“I am driven by my faith. I was given the gift of faith and taught not to question others about what they believe. Treat others how you want to be treated.” said Heffron.
The pantry has three paid staff members, all part-time.
With a big increase in client numbers, they’ve had to up their hours.
They’re open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10am—2pm and Wednesdays from 5pm—7pm.
Heffron emphasizes, “This food pantry is all of ours. Everyone should take ownership and feel free to share their suggestions and ideas. Even those showing up to get food.”
People, both volunteers, and clients feel valued because of that. The pantry has a database of over 300 volunteers that give their time in two-hour shifts.
“They come in and work hard and feel like they’re making a difference in the community. A lot of volunteers use this as their workout, moving fifty-pound bags of potatoes, forty-pound boxes of bananas, and heavy bags of carrots and onions,” Heffron says with a laugh.
We treat everyone with dignity. We listen well. We adapt when people have intelligent ideas. That makes volunteers feel good and the people we’re helping,” Heffron shared.
That assistance has been given joyfully to many in the community, including a concerned mother reached out to Heffron to help her teenager with self-esteem issues.
“Explaining the impact he could have on others by helping provide food took his mind off himself and helped him realize how minuscule his concerns were. That is a win-win situation,” said Heffron.
The pantry both impacts and rehabilitates people by serving the community.
We provide community service opportunities, provided they follow our confidentiality agreement. We like to help people who made a bad decision, but we have to make sure everyone here is safe.” Heffron said.
Keeping clients confidential is important. Recently, the mother of a local family blessed by the pantry burst into tears when asked if she wanted fresh fruits and vegetables. She hadn’t had fresh fruits and vegetables in months.
“We don’t know how badly people are struggling. It’s one less thing for them to worry about and a beautiful way to help,” said Heffron. “We’re working with the public school system providing apples, oranges, and snack bars every week,” commented Heffron.
Local schools and churches are doing food drives that provide canned foods.
Heffron mentions a young girl who had a birthday party at her house. Instead of having other kids bring gifts to her party, she asked them to bring food to the donate to the pantry.
The Teton high school art department also designed the new logo for the food pantry.
“We had twelve submissions for the logo and appreciate everyone’s efforts,” said Heffron. “We love our new logo because it represents the fresh food we provide as well as the hands, which represent both giving and receiving.”
The pantry collaborates with many organizations including Seniors West of the Tetons and its Meals on Wheels program, which provides meals for seniors in the valley.
We’ll call the seniors once a week to check in on them. If they have health issues, we make necessary referrals. We’ll write down their food order and ask if there are specific food items they enjoy eating to spoil them a little. Lastly, we deliver it all right to them.”
Laughing, Heffron mentioned, “This week we had one senior requesting yogurt. Not just any yogurt though. He asked kindly for the Tillamook brand.”
This isn’t an item normally stocked at the pantry, but is a case where Heffron allocates a few dollars to purchase the Tillamook brand to bless the individual.
In order to receive food from the pantry, clients must provide their name, how many people are in the household, town of residence, phone number (for food recall purposes), and income status. Income qualifications are as follows; single person earning less than $2832.25/month. Family of four or more earning less than $5,781.25/month.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people are proud and not interested in stooping down low to receive food from the pantry,” said Heffron. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help when you need it. That’s why our community is here for us. It’s not a bad stigma. It’s a good thing. We need to look out for each other.”
The pantry was recently able to purchase a used van through a grant from the Kroeger Foundation. Magnets appropriately adorn both side doors with the new logo.
Heffron smiled and added, “Aside from delivering food to seniors, we can now go pick up food from Victor Valley Market, Broulim’s, Family Dollar, Barrels and Bins, and Walmart.”
“The pantry is loved and supported well by our community, but we have to be continually supported,” said Heffron. The pantry serves the communities of Alta, WY as well as Victor, Driggs, Tetonia, and Felt, Idaho.
To support the pantry, donations can be made via Venmo: @TVFoodPantry or by going to www.tvfoodpantry.com. Volunteer info is also available on the website.