As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Midwest in March 2020, it became clear that amid job losses and school closures, more families than ever before would need help getting meals on the table. The dairy community was quick to respond. In addition to sending grants and donations into communities throughout our 10-state region to help supply refrigeration units to food banks and cooler bags to school foodservice workers preparing meals for pick-up or delivery, Midwest Dairy also approached the USDA with a unique proposal.
The request: Allow dairy checkoff funds to purchase dairy products, which would help connect dairy products with those who need them most in the coming weeks and months. This program also offered processors an opportunity to keep their supply chains active while navigating dairy demand shifts due to recent school, restaurant and other business closures. Though dairy checkoff funds are not typically used to purchase dairy products, the USDA approved Midwest Dairy’s proposal to get dairy into the hands of people facing food insecurity.
As a result, on behalf of Midwest Dairy’s 6,500 dairy farm families $500,000 was donated to food banks throughout the Midwest to purchase dairy products for people in need. “Dairy farmers work tirelessly day in and day out to help feed the world, so this tremendous contribution puts our values in action to help our hungry neighbors,” said Allen Merrill, Midwest Dairy Corporate board chairman and a dairy farmer from Parker, South Dakota. “As a farmer and Midwest Dairy leader, I am proud of our work to make this donation possible to provide dairy products to people who otherwise may not have access to these nutrients during this challenging time.”
The contributions were spread across the 10 states Midwest Dairy represents, including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, to help meet the increased demand for dairy products during the COVID-19 pandemic. “During this extraordinarily challenging time, food banks throughout the Midwest, including the eight Feeding America food banks and their local networks of community agencies that serve Illinois, are working relentlessly to ensure that nobody in local communities goes hungry,” said Steve Ericson, executive director for Feeding Illinois. “The need for nutritious foods, such as dairy, is growing exponentially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects. Thank you to Midwest Dairy and dairy farmers for leading this effort to access additional dairy products to help residents in need across our state and region. This donation will make an immediate impact.”
Midwest Dairy partnered with dairy processors to determine what products they had available and then connected interested processors to food banks that had both a need and the capacity to increase their dairy inventory and distribution. “We are looking forward to the opportunity to partner with Midwest Dairy and interested regional food banks to bring dairy products to people in need throughout our communities,” said Steve Schlangen, chairman of the board of directors for dairy farmer-owned processing cooperative Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) of New Ulm, Minn., and a dairy farmer from Albany, Minn. “This effort helps ensure the milk dairy farmers work so hard to produce continues to move through the supply chain and into the hands of those who need it.”
In addition to the donation, Midwest Dairy mailed food banks and their local sites 2,200 resource kits that included recipe sheets and posters featuring dairy nutrition and sustainability information.
Media interest in the project has been strong with coverage in agriculture and consumer outlets including Dairy Business, Dairy Foods, Hoards, Ag Daily, Dairy Star, AgriTalk and many others.