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Providing milk to those in need: How the dairy industry worked to fill the gaps during COVID-19

PD Staff Published on 22 May 2020
Hannah Riser

Editor’s note: This is not an all-encompassing list, but we wanted to highlight stories of dairy farmers, companies and organizations across the country stepping in to provide milk and other dairy products to food banks and others in need during the COVID-19 crisis. This list is compiled by our staff and their news sources. We recognize it is not a complete list of all dairy donations that have occurred in the past few months.

To have your story of goodwill added, email Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke.

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Farmer and student-led efforts

• Mike and Karl Sensenig of Sensenig’s Feed Mill in New Holland, Pennsylvania, gave away 7,476 gallons of whole milk in a donation drive-thru, “From Farm to Table with Love.”

Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus, Wisconsin, opened a “kindness cooler,” filled with free milk and dairy products, available to anyone in need.

• Wisconsin dairy farmer Carrie Mess (known online as Dairy Carrie) challenged her followers and vegans to a friendly fundraiser competition with an ultimate goal of raising $20,000 to buy products that will be distributed to Wisconsin food banks.

• Kelly Taylor of Taylor Pride Farms in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, teamed up with Steve Wunderlich Hoof Care and the Tioga/Potter County Young Ag Professionals to host drive-thru distributions. Their first event provided about 100, 25-pound boxes filled with various dairy products to families in need. At the second event, they estimated they fed 1,000 people and gave away 500 gallons of milk.

• Two local dairy farms, JoBo Holstein Farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Mount Rock Dairy in Newville, Pennsylvania, recently donated more than 13,000 gallons of raw milk, a tanker load each, to support a milk drive organized by the Blessings of Hope food bank and 97 Milk LLC. Through the effort, half-gallons and gallons of whole milk were processed and donated to food pantries and distributed in food boxes to families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mount Rock Dairy is owned by Alan Waybright, and JoBo Holstein Farm is owned by partners John and Bonnie Hess, Dale Brown, Josie Riser, John Hess II and Joy Widerman.

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• Mark Cournoyer, an agriculture teacher at Auburndale High School in Auburndale, Wisconsin, started a Facebook challenge to donate 1 pound of cheese and 1 pound of milk for every family in the Auburndale School District. It's evolved into 5,000 pounds of cheese distributed in May at the Nasonville dairy plant in Marshfield. The cheese will go to nine different school districts, six in central Wisconsin.

• Bill Davenport, University of Connecticut Extension educator and the Litchfield County 4-H coordinator, worked with other extension educators – along with students in the UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), UConn 4-H members and volunteers – to prevent food waste, support farmers and feed those in need.

In an effort named Operation Community Impact, surplus dairy products including milk, yogurt and sour cream are being rerouted to food pantries in Connecticut, serving over 100 food pantries and counting. The amount of food donated from the dairy surplus topped 8,640 half-gallons of fresh milk and over 28,000 pounds of yogurt and sour cream.

• Across Wisconsin signage is popping up on people's lawns, urging folks to support the state's dairy industry. To rally support for Wisconsin’s dairy industry, FFA organizations and other agricultural groups are using the signs to not only promote the state's signature industry, but to generate funds to purchase dairy products.

Following the lead of other FFA chapters around the state, Wisconsin's Whitewater FFA Vice President Elizabeth Katzman felt compelled to bring the idea to Whitewater where the proceeds from the sale of the signs along with donations would be used to purchase Wisconsin cheese and other dairy products for the Whitewater Food Pantry and The Community Space. Each sign costs $10.

• Lively Run Goat Dairy of Interlaken, New York, co-owned by Dave Messmer ’17, is doing its part to help those in the region struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. The dairy launched a GoFundMe campaign April 17 to raise $20,000 with which to purchase surplus milk and to cover cheese production costs. The campaign met that goal in three days; as of May 13, Lively Run had raised over $47,000 on their GoFundMe page, along with mailed-in donations.

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• Elder Vogel, a Pennsylvania state senator and lifelong dairy farmer, purchased a total of 1,536 milk cartons from Marburger Dairy to be distributed to three food pantries.

• Kristina Puntney, Baraboo High School ag teacher and FFA adviser, said the Milk Money Program has sold more than 200 “support dairy” signs at $10 each – raising roughly $2,000 – and has received about $5,000 in donations so far. The FFA uses the funds to purchase dairy products from local suppliers, which it then donates to community organizations like the Baraboo Food Pantry, the Boys & Girls Club and the children’s museum.

• Dairy owners Isidro and Heather Alves gave away 1,400 gallons of milk at their operation, Sand Hill Dairy in Fallon, Nevada, April 30.

• With the help of some key donors, four FFA chapters in Columbia County are joining together in an effort to ease the hardship Wisconsin dairy farmers are experiencing during closures caused by COVID-19. Using about $4,000 in donations, the FFA chapters are buying hundreds of dairy products to distribute to students, community members and food pantries.

• Ken Smith told News4 in April that his farm, Cool Lawn Farms in Fauquier County, Virginia, was struggling after schools were closed because they were his biggest buyer. The Piedmont Environmental Council saw Smith's story, and its donors raised $15,000 to buy milk from Smith's farm and donate it. The Fauquier Community Food Bank was the recipient of the donation and now has a supply of milk to provide its members.

• Working through the Valley Ville 4-H Club, Amanda and Doug Wallerman of Ridgeville Holsteins Too in Wisconsin were able to donate 900 gallons of milk, 225 pounds of cheese curds, 217 pounds of cottage cheese and 150 pounds of butter to the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District food program.

Six farm families near Kendall, Wisconsin, purchased 250 pounds of butter to donate to the Royall and Wonewoc school districts. Jeannie Jones organized the effort, and Rich and Mary Houzner, Ken and Mary Cook, Brian Friske, Garrett Nielsen, and Ron and Patty Leis contributed toward the purchase. All of the farmers ship their milk to Grassland.

Two Wisconsin FFA programs – Brookwood FFA and Royall FFA – hosted milk challenges to benefit local food banks.

Dairy associations and co-ops take charge

• Georgia dairy farmers partnered with Kroger, Dairy Farmers of America Inc., Georgia Department of Agriculture and Centennial Farms Dairy to donate over 24,000 half-gallons of milk to hospitals and first responders across the state in the Great Georgia Give.

• At the end of April, Midwest Dairy announced they will donate $500,000 to food banks in the Midwest to purchase dairy products for people who are in need. Though dairy checkoff funds cannot typically be used to purchase dairy products, the USDA has granted a one-time exception at the request of Midwest Dairy to help meet this need and get dairy into the hands of people who are food insecure.

• Kilgus Farms near Fairbury, Illinois, is selling about 700 gallons of milk a week to the Bloom Township at their cost. The milk is then given away for free to residents in the south suburbs.

• Volunteers from Dairy Farmers of America, American Dairy Association North East and Dean Foods organized a drive-thru distribution and provided 7,700 gallons of milk to families, seniors and schools in need. Similar drive-thru distributions were done throughout April and May at SUNY Morrisville. SUNY Cobleskill planned a drive-thru distribution for May 1.

• Food Network star Chris Valdes, along with his staff, cooked 8,000 meals to donate to those in need. Florida Dairy Farmers and Borden donated milk to accompany the meals.

• The Wisconsin Dairy Recovery Program – a partnership among Hunger Task Force, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection – is in full swing. The first 2,480 gallons of fresh, whole milk were delivered to Hunger Task Force in late April and has been distributed to local food pantries.

• Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative in partnership with the Washington County Farm Bureau delivered 2,160 gallons of fresh milk to those in need at an event in Hagerstown, Maryland, on May 5.

• To date, New England Dairy has purchased and donated over 1,400 portable milk coolers to 77 districts across New England, valued in total at over $50,000.

• In collaboration with the Vermont Community Foundation, $60,000 has been made available to purchase milk from Dairy Farmers of America family farms. Green Mountain Creamery and HP Hood will process it into 42,000 cups of yogurt and over 11,500 gallons of 2% milk. The products will be produced on a weekly basis and donated to the Vermont Foodbank in amounts of 1,152 gallons of milk for 10 weeks and 3,500 cases of yogurt throughout the month of May, helping the Vermont Foodbank to serve thousands of clients. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets has coordinated this effort, and the dairy checkoff-funded New England Dairy also provided support to bring these businesses together.

• Dairy checkoff-funded Dairy West launched a “Curds + Kindness” program that will direct surplus dairy products to food banks and some local school districts throughout Utah and Idaho. The program will direct nearly 200,000 gallons of milk that would have otherwise been disposed. Dairy West will be purchasing the products and working directly with Idaho and Utah food banks to distribute them through the existing network of feeding sites.

• The Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) has committed $4 million to a comprehensive COVID-19 relief plan. TCCA will focus most of its relief efforts in Tillamook and Morrow counties, in the rural Oregon communities where the company operates production facilities and where many TCCA employees work and live. Key elements of TCCA’s relief efforts include the following: expanding employee sick leave; offering premium pay for front-line manufacturing workers; maintaining full wages and benefits for all employees; and creating a special resilience fund for employees experiencing substantial financial distress.

TCCA is also increasing donations and expanding community enrichment funding to support nonprofit organizations working in food security, healthful children and agricultural advocacy.

• Dairy checkoff-funded American Dairy Association North East (ADA North East) has helped retail stores stock more than 10,000 dairy products in more than 700 stores since the COVID-19 quarantine began in mid-March, while also executing several other existing programs. Another ADA North East retail program is the Dairy Aisle Reinvention (DAR) program that incorporates merchandising techniques such as customized signage to highlight the real dairy in the dairy case; provides nutrition information and product use ideas; and features dairy farm families in farm-to-table signage. Since the COVID-19 situation began, DAR installments have been made in 14 Weis Markets and five Shop ‘n Save stores. Additionally, 41 stores have been measured and/or have signage printed and ready for installment when restrictions are lifted. Stores include Acme, Key Foods, Karns, Foodtown, Redners, ShopRite and Fresh Grocer.

In Pennsylvania, “Choose PA Dairy” signage has been placed in 59 new stores to highlight local Pennsylvania dairy farm families to help consumers connect with who is producing their food. To-date, 208 stores feature the “Choose PA Dairy” signage.

• Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), a national cooperative owned by dairy farm families across the U.S., has teamed up with Dean Foods processing plants across the Northeast and American Dairy Association North East, representing over 10,000 dairy farmers, to support a giveaway with a truckload of milk carrying close to 4,000 gallons. Dairy processors including Chobani, Cabot, Hershey’s and Huff have stepped in to provide free yogurt, cheese, eggs and ice cream. The giveaway took place May 13 at the Gilbertsville-Mt. Upton Central School District.

• The Dairy Farmers of America co-op, Colorado farm families and Meadow Gold Dairy coordinated the processing of more than 30,000 gallons of milk for delivery to food banks in Denver, Boulder and Greeley. In late April, more than 21,000 gallons of milk were distributed to Food Bank of the Rockies, Weld Food Bank in Greeley and Community Food Share in Louisville, which are all part of the national Feeding America network. The Salvation Army also received a portion of the donation.

An additional 8,000 gallons of milk were donated in early May to Weld Food Bank and Food Bank of the Rockies, which provides food to several other food banks in Colorado.

• In Upstate New York, several agricultural competitors came together to donate more than 70,000 pounds of food to communities in Queens. The latest truck (as of May 14) was loaded up with 10,000 pounds of cabbage, more than 17,000 pounds of onions, nearly 10,000 pounds of apples and nearly 800 pounds of dairy products.

• Four diverse Maine organizations are teaming up to address hunger relief and support Maine dairy farmers. Good Shepherd Food Bank, Pineland Farms Dairy Co., Libra Foundation and Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), will distribute thousands of pounds of cheese to food insecure Mainers through Maine’s emergency food distribution network.

Starting immediately (as of May 14) with a commitment of more than 26,000 pounds of cheese donated by Pineland Farms Dairy Co., made from local DFA members’ milk, Good Shepherd Food Bank, Maine’s largest hunger-relief organization, will begin distributing cheese weekly to its network of over 500 partner agencies, which includes food pantries, meal sites, shelters and schools. Contributions could total 200,000 pounds of Maine cheddars and jacks over the course of several months.

• Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., through its charitable giving program, Our Caps Your Cause, is increasing its support of food banks during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Through the program, anyone purchasing gallons or half-gallons of Prairie Farms milk can peel the sticker on the cap to reveal a code. Visiting the Our Caps Your Cause redemption webpage, they can choose one of nearly 50 food banks and enter the cap code. During the special campaign, the value of each cap is quadrupled, to 20 cents. Once the 1,000-cap goal is met, the designated food bank will receive a check for $200.

• Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) launched its Farmers Feeding Families Fund, which hopes to raise $500,000 for community food banks across the country. Initial seed money of $200,000 has already been raised through the cooperative’s DFA Cares Foundation. As demand for food assistance rises with the COVID-19 outbreak, Feeding America, with its more than 200 affiliates across the country, has projected a $1.4 billion shortfall in the next six months alone.

Company and corporate announcements

• Cargill colleagues Brad Saunders and Ed Varnam led efforts to donate 3,000 gallons of milk, which otherwise would have gone to waste, from Dykeman Farms of Mohawk Dairy Co-op to the Food Bank of Central New York and Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in late April.

• Kroger announced the launch of an expanded Dairy Rescue Program, which partners with dairy cooperative suppliers and farmers across the Midwest and South, including:

  • Tamarack Farms in partnership with Dairy Farmers of America will donate milk to benefit the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, YMCA Van Buren and the Salvation Army in Columbus, Ohio; New Beginnings in Youngstown, Ohio; and the West Ohio Food Bank in Lima, Ohio.
  • Kroger Michigan Dairy in partnership with Michigan Milk Producers Association will donate rescued milk to Michigan food banks supported by Food Bank Council of Michigan.
  • Winchester Farms Dairy in partnership with Dairy Farmers of America will donate milk to benefit Feeding America Kentucky's Heartland in Elizabethtown, Kentucky; Dare to Care in Louisville, Kentucky; God's Pantry Food Bank in Lexington, Kentucky; and the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati, Ohio. Transportation will be donated by Penske Logistics.
  • Vandervoort's Dairy in partnership with Select Milk Producers will donate milk to benefit the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Houston Food Bank in Houston, Texas. Transportation will be donated by Quickway Carriers.

• Publix, with grocery stores serving customers primarily in the southeast U.S., has purchased more than 100,000 gallons of milk and 1 million pounds of fruits and vegetables to donate to Feeding America member food banks within a two-week period. Publix Super Markets Charities, which supports nonprofits in Publix’s operating area, has also donated $2 million to support Feeding America member food banks during the pandemic.

McDonald's has donated $3.1 million in food for U.S. communities, equaling nearly 3 million pounds of food, including dairy, beef, produce, fruit and bakery items, a news release said. Included in the donations are more than 1.2 million pounds of beef, 1.1 million pounds of dairy items, 433,000 pounds of bakery goods, 62,000 pounds of fresh produce and more than 52,000 pounds of granola and other ingredients.

• The USDA approved $1.2 billion in contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program designed to connect excess meat, dairy and produce on farms with families facing food insecurity. The funding far exceeds the $100 million per month the department initially planned for the program, due to high interest and need. The program will purchase $461 million in fresh fruits and vegetables, $317 million in dairy, $258 million in meat and $175 million in a combination box of fresh produce, dairy or meat products.

• Sargento Foods Inc. is donating $2 million in cheese to Wisconsin’s Hunger Task Force and its membership organization, the Hunger Relief Federation of Wisconsin. To assist families outside Wisconsin, Sargento will provide donated cheese to Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the U.S. The family-owned cheese company is providing relief by donating a total of 15.8 million cheese sticks, which can feed more than 1.3 million households across the U.S.  end mark

PHOTO: Hannah Riser of JoBo Holstein Farm, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, helped donate milk to support the Blessings of Hope milk drive. Photo courtesy of the Center for Dairy Excellence.

Resources

See more COVID-19 stories and resources.

• Are you interested in hosting your own dairy donation drive? American Dairy Association Northeast provides some tips.

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

—Compiled by PD staff

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