I recently heard a touching story from a mom who visits her local food pantry to gather groceries to help feed her children. She was grateful for all of the assistance she received, but she was especially thankful for the gallon of milk she had in her hand because it meant she wouldn’t have to use water in her cereal.
This story likely wouldn’t have been possible as recently as three years ago. Back then, my colleagues and I at Northern Illinois Food Bank were trying to develop a solution to one of the biggest conundrums in food banking: How do we get fresh milk into the hands of people who need it most?
September is Hunger Action Month, and a time when you can get involved to make a difference. Milk has traditionally been one of the most requested yet least donated products. On one hand, the cost of milk can be a barrier for hungry neighbors struggling to make ends meet, and on the other hand, donations are often hard to come by because milk is heavily regulated and has a short shelf life.
I’m proud to say we finally found a breakthrough in 2012 when Northern Illinois Food Bank forged a partnership with Prairie Farms Dairy to directly deliver a weekly supply of fresh milk to participating food pantries. We call the initiative the Milk2MyPlate Program, and it allows our neighbors in need to take home milk that is as fresh, or fresher, than what would be found in the store.
More than four million servings of milk have been distributed to hungry neighbors since the Milk2MyPlate Program’s inception in October 2012. The program currently distributes about 14,000 gallons of 1% milk each month to 37 community food pantries participating in the program.
With the support of private funders, the Food Bank and food pantries are able to purchase the milk from Prairie Farms Dairy at a fixed and more affordable cost. For the local dairy farmers involved, the program provides a consistent, year-round customer. It really is a win-win for everyone, most importantly our hungry neighbors.
Our Milk2MyPlate Program is now being used as a model for other food banks in the Feeding America network to follow. I’d consider it a humble honor if what we started can help assure children from low-income families across the county have access to the essential nutrients found in milk.
Speaking of honors, earlier this year Northern Illinois Food Bank and Prairie Farms Dairy were recognized with a 2015 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Partnerships. This recognition truly helped reinforce that solving a complex issue like hunger takes an entire community working together.
There are a number of ways, consumers can get involved to help support this important initiative, You can make a donation to support our Milk2MyPlate Program at www.SolveHungerToday.org/Dairy, you can wear orange to raise awareness of hunger and volunteer at your local food bank or food pantry. Every little action can make a real difference in the lives of our hungry neighbors.
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