The Coronavirus pandemic disrupted our lives and our food supply chain. A quick trip to the grocery store for a local gallon of milk turned into a stressful experience of shopping while staying six feet away from other shoppers. In the dairy aisle, shoppers were restricted to a gallon or two of milk. Sometimes, the trip was made for nothing. The shelves were bare. Consumers were frustrated. Retail chains were frustrated. Farmers were frustrated — after all, cows still needed to be milked.
The retail team at American Dairy Association North East saw an opportunity to help. They stepped in to help store retailers fill bare shelves as stores faced high demand and shortage of staff and, in addition, were pulling staff from other departments or positions to help stock shelves and fulfill online orders. The ADA North East team went from monitoring dairy cases to ensure they are clean and cold as part of the Dairy Aisle Performance Program to supporting grocery stores by stocking shelves with dairy. Since mid-March, the retail team stocked nearly 162,487 units in total dairy items including milk, cheese and yogurt in 1,200 stores.
With dairy back on shelves, the retail team worked with grocery chains to help keep those products readily available and ensure that a directive was issued from headquarters to stores to remove limitations on how much milk shoppers could purchase.
Now, more than ever, families need milk. Again, dairy farmers stepped up to support their neighbors. The retail team worked on getting milk to people in need through the Fill a Glass with Hope® program, initiated by Pennsylvania dairy farmers in 2015. The program, now in New York, partnered with Price Chopper Supermarkets for a National Dairy Month campaign during June to raise $28,000 to support New York families. Funds raised in support of the program enable member food banks to purchase fresh milk directly from local dairies for distribution.
“Milk is one of the most requested items at food banks, but usually the least donated because of its perishability,” said ADA North East CEO Rick Naczi. “Dairy farmers recognized this need in their communities and initiated Fill a Glass with Hope to answer the call to help make milk more readily available to their neighbors in need.”
ADA North East has helped companies receiving Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), a USDA funded program to help those impacted by Covid-19, to make connections with food banks and community groups, and secure locations for distribution, to get the milk out to the people who needed it. Total year-to-date, 678,000 gallons of milk have been distributed between CFAP, Nourish New York and the Dairy Farmers of America milk drives, which began in April. Additionally, ADA North East assisted with community giveaway events where, along with the gallons of whole milk, “dairy boxes,” containing locally sourced goods – such as sour cream, cheese, extra milk, cottage cheese and yogurt – are distributed to families in need. To date, a total 275,780 pounds of non-fluid dairy products have been distributed through the dairy boxes.
Local dairy farmers have volunteered at many of the milk distribution events to ensure the families’ access to wholesome, nutritious milk and to support their local communities. Since April, ADA North East has already facilitated nearly 111 milk distribution events, both public milk drives and direct distributions to food banks, where milk was given out.
The ADA North East retail team will continue working with organizations on potential milk drives and with supermarkets on making sure dairy is plentiful in stores.