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CHEYENNE - They struggle to pay for rent, utilities, car repairs and clothes - leaving little money left over to buy food.

They're the people the Wyoming Community Foundation hopes to help with $100,000 for food banks and soup kitchens around the state.

The Laramie-based nonprofit foundation announced the program Wednesday. Charities that have seen a sharp increase in demand for food are eligible for grants of up to $5,000. The grants will be awarded next month.

"Nonprofits around the country and around the state are seeing an increase in demand for help. But they're seeing a decrease or just a flat rate of contributions, which means a lot of them just can't meet the needs," foundation spokeswoman Olivia Engkvist said. "We wanted to help alleviate that."

Engkvist acknowledged that Wyoming still has very low unemployment because of the energy industry, but she said the figure masks how many Wyomingites need help.

"We look at that and we think, 'Wow, there's no problem.' But a lot of people who aren't in the energy sector, they don't get that blessing. So I think with your low-income families - especially single-parent households - they're facing quite a big need," Engkvist said.

Applications for funding are due Jan. 21. Grants will be awarded the first or second week of February, and Engkvist said the foundation wants all the money to be used by April 30.

In Laramie, Interfaith Good Samaritans helps people in need get their cars repaired and find temporary housing. The charity also runs Albany County's food pantry.

"We've been seeing quite a few middle-class families coming in for food. They've been able to pay all of their bills, but they've been taking money from their food budget to do that," Director Tom Martin said.

Martin said he already was working on his organization's funding application.

Interfaith Good Samaritans helped 876 adults and 612 children in December, up about 30 percent from the same month last year, Martin said.

About 90 percent of those served by the charity have jobs, he said. Many others are people with disabilities and are trying to get by on Social Security benefits. Martin estimates that only 3 percent of people his charity helps are unemployed.

"Unfortunately, there's not a lot of good-paying jobs available in Laramie. There's a lot of service industry-type jobs," he said.

The situation is similar in Cheyenne, said Ami Skeens, executive director of Needs Inc., which runs the Laramie County food bank.

"You take somebody who's making $8.50 an hour and they're only working 20, 24 hours a week. They're not unemployed, but they're sure not making enough to make ends meet," Skeens said.

Needs Inc. is a nonprofit that receives support from the United Way, the Daniels Fund, the Cheyenne and Laramie County governments and direct private contributions. Skeens said she's proud that Needs has never turned away anyone who's needed food.

That's been a growing challenge. Skeens said the charity provided twice as much help during the second half of 2008 as during the first half.

"We're getting two to three new families a day. We're getting more and more people coming in and saying either their hours have been cut or they're laid off," she said.

At the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Cheyenne, Regina Shull said she usually serves up to 120 people a day when bank accounts run low at the end of the month.

The number topped 150 at the end of December - and donations are down.

"Many of the Salvation Armies in this area, including Denver, are down a lot," she said.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal took time out of his regular news conference Wednesday to praise the Wyoming Community Foundation program.

"To the extent that this announcement from the Wyoming Community Foundation can signal charitable actions on the part of the citizens of the state, I'm encouraged by it," he said. "Hopefully we can help those who are suffering through this recession, which has obviously arrived in Wyoming."

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