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Gleaner Community Food Bank: Sustainability with a community impact

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 07 June 2019
Getting milk for lunch

Editor’s note: Progressive Dairyman features recipients of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s eighth annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards.

Three farms – Cinnamon Ridge Farms of Donahue, Iowa; Majestic Crossing Dairy of Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin; and Philip Verwey Farms of Hanford, California – were recipients of Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability awards.



In addition to the Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability honorees, General Mills and Foremost Farms were recognized for Outstanding Dairy Supply Chain Collaboration, and Gleaners Community Food Bank was recognized for Outstanding Community Impact.

In their own words

“Milk is one of the most requested items at food pantries, but it is one of the least donated food items. Because milk can be expensive for families, many go without.

Gleaners leveraged the power of its relationships with United Dairy Industry of Michigan and Michigan’s dairy farmers to help change that.”
—Julie Beamer, chief operating officer for Gleaners

Milk is one of the most requested items at food pantries but, on average, emergency food pantries provide the equivalent of less than 1 gallon of milk per person per year. Through its Milk Access Program, Gleaners Community Food Bank leveraged the power of their relationships with Michigan’s dairy industry to raise funds dedicated to purchase and deliver more milk to families in need.


The path to sustainability

Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, headquartered in Detroit, operates distribution centers in five counties and provides food to 499 partner soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and other agencies. On average, Gleaners distributes 89,000 meals each day, providing nourishing food and nutrition education to 171,000 children a year.

Receiving milk

In the case of milk, it is one of the most requested, yet least donated items in the emergency food network. The cost of milk can prompt low-income families to opt for less-costly beverages which are less nutritionally dense and higher in sugar and calories. Partnering with Michigan’s dairy community, Gleaners established a fundraising campaign and mastered the logistical challenge of getting refrigerated milk to families in need.

Gleaners’ message of “milk for healthy kids” transformed into the MILK (Making Investments in the Lives of Kids) initiative. Building on fundraising activities and momentum from 2017, they continued to partner with the United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM), who provided milk-match funding as well as “squishy” novelty cows to be used in Gleaners’ milk promotional efforts.

Gleaners engaged donors through an on-site volunteer program and worked with Kroger and other corporate donors to extend the milk fundraising reach. In September 2018, the Inaugural MILK Gala kicked off the MILK Campaign, and Gleaners’ first-ever milk-specific messaging direct-mail solicitation to donors was launched. The message resonated with financial donors.

Bringing milkIn 2018, Gleaners had set a goal of raising $96,000 for milk donations, seeking to distribute 103,680 gallons of milk to families in need. By year-end, Gleaners purchased more than $132,000 in milk, providing 229,000 gallons to those in need.


By visiting a Michigan dairy farm, the Gleaners staff gained insight into the production and processing system, reinforcing that they could serve the freshest milk possible to their clients. In 2018, Gleaners committed to distributing fresh milk to families through the mobile pantry program, dedicating a truck to pick up larger quantities of milk at competitive costs from Michigan Dairy, owned by Kroger. The milk is often delivered straight to Gleaners’ agency partners or brought back to the warehouses for distribution. The quick turnaround from the plant to the community saves on refrigeration, energy and storage costs, and keeps milk fresh, reducing food waste.

By improving health outcomes for pantry consumers and their families and promoting the lifelong consumption of Michigan milk, Gleaners and its partners and donors ultimately affect the nutritional, social and economic health in southeast Michigan.

UDIM continues to work in partnership with the Food Bank Council of Michigan to replicate the Milk Access Program in Michigan’s other six food banks.  end mark

PHOTOS: Receiving milk at Gleaner Community Food Bank. Photos courtesy of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Dave Natzke
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By the numbers

• 229,000: Gallons of milk distributed through the Gleaners Milk Access Program in 2018, up from 45,000 gallons in 2014, and bringing the total five-year distribution to 561,000 gallons.

• 15,541: Families receiving fresh milk each month through the program, an average of 87 families per mobile food pantry at 67 sites.

• 688,000: Pounds of dairy products from local businesses and retailers headed for disposal that were rescued and provided to families in the food bank network.


• $100,000: Funds, in milk-purchase match funds, committed to the Milk Access Program by United Dairy Industry of Michigan for 2019.