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Checkoff partnership extends Feeding America’s reach

Contributed by Jerod Matthews Published on 11 June 2020

We can’t do it alone at Feeding America.

Our country’s food insecurity issue is too large, and it’s becoming exponentially larger as we manage our way through the COVID-19 crisis.

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We’ve always needed partners whose contributions allow us to grow our mission of helping provide meals to more than 40 million people facing hunger. Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) is among the partners that help us extend our reach and make more dairy products available to communities in need.

We’ve come a long way since our partnership began in 2012. I knew very little about the dairy industry back then, and my DMI counterparts were eager to learn more about Feeding America, too. Taking the time to understand each other’s business makes the partnership work so well. The work is as seamless as it is rewarding.

We were moving about 173 million pounds of dairy products nationwide through our network of 200 food banks in 2012. By 2016, the total grew to 226.1 million pounds. Today, thanks to work done with DMI, the state and regional checkoff network, the USDA and MilkPEP, I’m proud to say that number soared to 353 million pounds last year. Our partnership is hitting its stride to support our neighbors facing hunger and is moving more milk for our nation’s dairy farm families.

The early days of our partnership also was a time that DMI and Feeding America joined forces with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to increase awareness of the issues of food insecurity and hunger with registered dietitians, physicians and other health care professionals. Subsequently, Feeding America set goals to increase the availability of nutrient-rich foods, including dairy, produce and protein in our network.

Overcoming challenges

We know there is great potential for doing even more with our partnership. Milk remains one of the most requested items by people visiting Feeding America’s food banks, yet it is one of the least donated. We’ve been challenged by accessibility, transportation and refrigeration issues.

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We cracked the code on some of these measures, including streamlining our access to dairy. With help from DMI, state and regional organizations and other partners, we built a purchasing model that allows our food banks to negotiate a milk price with processors to secure an affordable and sustainable flow of milk across our network.

Through the checkoff’s relationships, we’ve also started to make progress with retailers and processors accepting tankers of milk within their supply chain that otherwise may have been disposed of. Retailers such as Kroger and Publix are processing this milk and donating it directly into our network. There was a time when this seemed impossible, but our collective efforts are paying off for families and farmers, especially in the current environment with so many Americans facing food insecurity.

We’ve seen our growth supported by other initiatives as well. The USDA is making purchases of dairy and other foods as part of the emergency food assistance, trade mitigation and COVID-19 aid packages. Additionally, MilkPEP and its Great American Milk Drive program provide a visible presence and platform for us with retailers. Since 2014, efforts led by processors have resulted in more than 33 million 8-ounce servings donated to people in need.

While we’ve enjoyed our share of wins, we know there remains one sizable obstacle we must conquer: refrigeration. Many of our food banks and agencies across the nation lack the ability to keep milk cold and fresh, so together we are exploring ways to overcome this deterrent. As a true partner, DMI has brought new stakeholders to the table, offering up unique possibilities to help solve this challenge.

Part of the dairy family

Until then, our collective mission continues as we work together to get dairy into the hands of those who need it most. Dairy farmers are showing what it means to be “essential,” and I hope they understand just how much they mean to all of us, including the families Feeding America serves. As your industry celebrates June Dairy Month, I look forward to recognizing these incredible people.

Truthfully, dairy month is every month for me, as I feel like I’m a part of the dairy family. I have gotten to know farmers and have visited several farms over the years. It’s been such an educational experience for an urban guy who grew up in Chicago, and I cherish every conversation I have with a farmer. I appreciate the way they care for their animals and their land and that they do everything they can to protect the integrity of the milk that leaves their farms.

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I especially admire farmers’ resiliency, and there is no more important time than now for that to shine through. Knowing what I know of farmers, I’m confident they will persevere and continue producing milk for our nation. The families we serve and many others throughout the country are counting on them.  end mark

Jerod Matthews is the Director of Dairy Supply Chain at Feeding America

Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.

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