(Syracuse, N.Y.) April 16, 2021

When Covid-19 hit more than a year ago, shifts in supply and demand presented significant challenges for the dairy industry. Dairy farmers and milk processors turned these challenges into opportunities as they faced an abundance of milk when restaurants and schools closed.

“Milk and dairy foods are a staple in households, especially those with children,” says Michelle Barber, registered dietitian for American Dairy Association North East. “When schools closed, many kids lost access to school meals including milk, missing out on vital nutrients like calcium, Vitamin D, and protein.”

A network of organizations including American Dairy Association North East (ADANE), an organization funded by dairy farmers, stepped up to provide a temporary solution.

“Dairy farmers are in business to feed families,” says dairy farmer Joel Riehlman, of Venture Farms in Fabius. “It was frustrating to have a supply of nutritious milk available but not be able to get it to those in need.”

On April 21, 2020, ADANE partnered with Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), a dairy farmer-owned cooperative, to organize the first of many milk donations providing more than 4,000 gallons of milk to the Salvation Army for distribution to its local members. DFA provided the milk and ADANE handled the logistics, volunteer recruitment and program publicity. Subsequently, the two dairy organizations distributed nearly 8,000 gallons of milk at Destiny USA where hundreds of cars lined up for miles. These events became the first of what turned out to be more than 25 public milk and food distribution events held throughout the Central New York region in 2020.

“With job losses, food insecurity and the need for assistance felt throughout our communities this past year, we are grateful for our family farmers, employees, industry partners and friends in the community for all the work they have done to get dairy from the farm to the tables of those in need,” said Jennifer Huson, Senior Director Marketing, Council Affairs and Industry Relations for DFA Northeast. “As a community of more than 12,500 family dairy farmers, we care deeply about the wellbeing of our neighbors and friends, and we’re committed to giving back in all the ways we can.”

Within the first six weeks, DFA donated almost 200,000 gallons of milk to those most in need through a mixture of public milk drives and in partnership with food banks and other community organizations.

With health organizations like the CDC (Centers For Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) recommending a diet rich in essential nutrients as a key step to preventing infections and boosting the immune system, the New York State, as well as the USDA quickly made funds available to pay for milk donations through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and Nourish New York.

“We were able to coordinate the distribution between certified vendors and local non-profit organizations to get milk in the hands of those who needed it most,” says Rick Naczi, ADANE CEO. “It wouldn’t have been possible without a network of partners. From the famers who produce the milk to the dairy processors who distribute it, it was a partnership of love.”

To date, ADANE has worked with an expansive network of community partners that have distributed more than 920,000 gallons of milk, and the total is expected to surpass one million gallons by June. Over the past 12 months in Central New York alone that total is more than 175,000 gallons, and one organization that has helped to keep things flowing in Central New York is the Salvation Army, which has been responsible for distributing more than 90,000 gallons of milk to its members.

”When organizations work together, it is amazing how much can be accomplished,” said Major Gayle Miga of the Salvation Army. “The collaboration and partnership between the Salvation Army and American Dairy Association North East was a perfect fit to distribute milk and food, not just throughout Central New York, but the entire State. COVID-19 changed New York immediately and many families did not know where their next meal was coming from. Our goal of providing good nutrition and healthy meals was achieved, and over the last 365 days the Salvation Army has provided over five million meals.”

Yet, the number of hungry people persists. Feeding America has projected that 42-million people, including 13-million children will experience food insecurity this year.
“It has been heartwarming and humbling to play a small part in this year-long effort,” said Riehlman. “Not only has it been great to see everyone working together to give back to the community and how appreciative everyone is, but it has been truly rewarding to know that as dairy farmers, we are making a difference.”