Dairy Farmers Fight Hunger


Every BODY needs Milk

Guest Column: Julie Humphreys –Community Relations Mgr./Second Harvest

Milk, It Does a Body Good! Probably the most well-known milk campaign ever produced… at least until Got Milk?  When the Does a Body Good television ads ran in the 1980s they touted milk’s role in building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis.  A decade or so later, the Got Milk? campaign pushed the protein value of milk. Today milk still gets high marks for bone development and protein content. That’s just one reason milk remains a vital part of a healthy diet.

Providing nutritious food to families, children, and seniors in need is the mission of Second Harvest, the largest hunger relief organization in Eastern Washington. Half of the more than 31 million pounds of food resourced and distributed by Second Harvest is fresh produce. Add in dairy, lean meats, and other perishable foods and that number becomes 70 percent. Donated milk is a valuable part of the mix and it’s a much desired food for people who utilize food banks and pantries. Second Harvest is able to provide a steady volume of milk to clients thanks to its partnership with the Dairy Farmers of Washington (DFW) and a program began five years ago called Dairy for Life.

“Families who are stretched financially often can’t afford the fresh, nutritious foods that children in particular need,” says Holly Siler, regional executive director of Second Harvest’s Pasco Distribution Center. “We are grateful for the local dairy producers who understand the value of dairy products and have a heart for feeding hungry neighbors.”

Dairy for Life

Participating dairy farmers contribute funds to purchase milk and Second Harvest gets it to people in need. Since fresh milk is a high demand item and also a food that is difficult to acquire through donation channels, in part because of refrigeration needs,  having dollars to purchase milk directly and to distribute it immediately are critical. To date, dairy farmers have generously donated more than $320,000, allowing Second Harvest to provide nearly 104,000 gallons of milk to families facing challenges. Bob Gray, site manager at the Richland branch of the Tri-Cities Food Bank says people are always grateful to receive milk.

“Families love it, especially families with a lot of kids.  They ask for it when we don’t have milk, it’s very valuable,” stated Gray.

Sarah MacPherson is the food sourcing manager at Second Harvest and deals with food donations for all agricultural products.

“What I see with milk, aside from its nutritional value, is it’s a very recognizable and known product. There’s no learning curve with milk whereas there can be with certain produce like squash,” McPherson stated. “Everyone knows what to do with milk and how to enjoy it.”

Milk is distributed to 38 partner food banks and pantries and also through mobile food distributions in Benton, Franklin, Yakima, and Walla Walla counties. All are areas with high poverty numbers and corresponding hunger statistics. In the Mid-Columbia basin, 16 percent of the population lives in poverty with one in nine people deemed food insecure and one in five children at risk of hunger. Walla Walla numbers are similar at 17 percent poverty rate. In Yakima County, 21 percent of people live in poverty, one in nine people are food insecure, and one in four children are at risk of hunger. Receiving milk at no charge goes a long way for people who live with the uncertainty of having enough good food to properly nourish themselves and their families.

To broaden the scope of Dairy for Life, the Dairy Farmers of Washington hold events and promotions throughout the year that highlight the program and also give communities a chance to be involved in providing milk to their neighbors in need. For example in February, the DFW held a Dairy for Life night at the Spokane Chiefs hockey game. Hockey fans purchased raffle tickets for Chiefs memorabilia with proceeds going to Dairy for Life.

More avenues to help the hungry

June is national Dairy Month, which provides an opportunity for DFW to again promote the milk message with a program called Give a Gallon. People shopping at participating grocery stores are encouraged to purchase an extra gallon of milk, which is donated to Second Harvest and distributed through its partner agencies. Heading into its third year, Give a Gallon has provided more than 2,200 gallons of milk to the Dairy for Life program and also increased public awareness around milk with both in-store displays and media coverage.

While Dairy for Life is a signature program under the Dairy Farmers of Washington, it’s by no means the only way DFW is helping Second Harvest fight hunger. For the past three years, Dairy Farmers of Washington have sponsored Tom’s Turkey Drive, a Second Harvest and KREM-TV Thanksgiving dinner distribution for low-income and other families in need. Last year DFW provided 12,000 half gallons of fresh milk to complete a traditional holiday dinner which included turkey, stuffing, potatoes, apples, and more.  Families repeatedly express their gratitude for the meal and the milk!

This creative group has also come up with engaging ways to raise funds to feed hungry people. In February of this year, DFW stepped up to the plate, the cheese plate that is, and helped raise dollars through an event called First Bite, a kickoff to the popular Inlander Restaurant Week in Spokane. First Bite attendees enjoyed delicious donated cheeses produced by Washington farmers and local restaurants highlighted the dairy products they use in their favorite dishes.

Second Harvest could not possibly feed the 55,000 people each week who line up at food banks and meal sites throughout Eastern Washington and North Idaho without the help of community partners like the Dairy Farmers of Washington. This group truly has a heart for making sure that all people, regardless of their income level or life situation, has Got Milk that Does a Body Good!



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