This Valentine’s Day my Heart will be a Little Fuller
Ever since I was a kid, Valentine’s Day has always been wonderful. Our mom always bought each of my sisters and I and our dad our own box of chocolates and usually made a special breakfast, too. Now I am married to my best friend, whom I get to spend Valentine’s Day with, along with our four beautiful children, who all now get their own box of chocolates and a special breakfast.
So what is going to make this Valentine’s Day even better? Well, it is a Friday. And it will be the third Friday that more than 35 children at our local elementary school will be going home for the weekend with a full six servings of milk they might not have otherwise had.
At the end of last year, I was inspired to apply for a grant from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) to provide 24 children in need with milk for the weekend to complement the non-perishable foods they were already generously gifted with from local donors. The inspiration came from me having the opportunity to visit the Forgotten Harvest headquarters in Detroit last fall to help with their Pour it Forward campaign. The program provided more than 34,000 gallons of milk to families in need over the holidays.
I was further inspired when I noticed some of the children from our school going home with boxes of cereal in their backpacks and wondered how they were going to eat it without milk. As a dairy farmer and mother I knew I could do something to help.
I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I did.
After getting support from the secretary at the school, I applied for and received a UDIM grant to do just what I set out to do. I also was lucky that UDIM had 24 lunchbox -sized coolers to spare to help keep the milk cold on the way home from school.
When school started again in January, I was prepared and excited to get the weekend milk program underway. We hit a few bumps in the road, but one unexpected (but welcome!) bump was the number of eligible children had changed: there were no longer 24 children – now there were 48! I am sure when the secretary told me this, my eyes nearly popped out of my head, but I wasn’t going to tell her there was no way we could do that. No, I smiled through the panic and said we could figure this out, it was the least of our worries.
I wasn’t leaving out any kids.
UDIM graciously sent more coolers, Jason and I donated all the ice packs, and I knew there would be a way to get more funding, I just had to figure that out.
Our next step was to send home permission slips with the kids to verify that their parents realized they were bringing home perishable milk in cartons stored in insulated bags with ice packs and that they needed to get the milk in their refrigerator as soon as possible. More than 30 permission slips were returned right away and a few more have trickled in after that to bring our total up to right over 35 children every week.
Finding help packing the milk and distributing it at the end of the day was easy. Remember all those sisters I spent Valentine’s Days past with? Well I have two of them who were free on Friday afternoons. They now have a volunteer job. I enjoy spending the time with them. I enjoy sharing the experience with them. I know they enjoy it, too, because they know I’m determined enough to do it alone if I have to. However, there’s no need, because they are there with smiles every week, ready to help.
When we pack the milk, the kids are just numbers on coolers, but when we deliver it to classrooms, a lot of the older kids know which number is theirs and will run to the door, ecstatic to be getting their milk. The first time I saw how thankful the kids were made every ounce of effort worth it. The first time I saw my own children beam up so proudly and say, “My mom and my aunts do that. They give the kids the gift of milk,” made it even more worth it.
Since the kickoff date of sending milk home on the weekend, we were interviewed and featured on the front page of the local paper. I had been planning before that to send out a letter to individual businesses in the area, asking for support to help stretch my grant for more kids, and at least until the end of the year. I haven’t had to do that yet. Instead, I have spent my time answering phone calls and not only getting to speak to civil groups and share my story, but also getting to meet the unique individuals that make up these groups and thanking them personally for donations, while hearing about what drives them to be who they are.
One of the ladies who read about me in the newspaper and suggested to her group that I come speak with them is 100 years old! That was a luncheon I won’t soon forget. We have also received private donations in the mail at the school, thanking us for all our hard work and saying how nice it is to see people doing good for others.
I am very thankful for the secretary at the school who has supported me 100% the entire time, who has made doing this project so much easier than I ever imagined, and who has graciously added being my milk manager to her list of duties at the school.
This Valentine’s Day, my heart is fuller. What fills it is the support of generous people, some of whom were strangers to me just weeks ago, others I have held near and dear to me all my life, but all who are now friends and comrades in the fight against hunger. What fills it is knowing the bodies of sweet, thankful children will be nourished over the weekend and their parents don’t have to stress out over how. What fills it is the endless number of people I can thank for helping make this happen and keeping it going. And what fills it every day is the love and support right here on my own farm and the blessings my family has right in front of us daily.