Michigan Dairy Farmers Provide Coolers for Local Food Pantries
Michigan’s dairy farmers are passionate about caring for their cows and community. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they wanted to ensure nutrient-rich dairy foods were available to those in need.
Editor’s Note: Three Michigan dairy farmers talk about their experience providing resources to their local food pantries through the United Dairy Industry of Michigan’s (UDIM) Milk Cooler Grant Pilot Program. Contributors include Carla Wardin of St Johns, Diane Loew of Byron Center and Kip Siegler of Imlay City.
Carla: Farmers are often active in their communities, because we’ve lived here and worked here for generations. We employ people, we work with people, and we educate our children here. We like communities to be strong, and that happens when people band together. Helping other people in need makes the entire community a better place to be. We love producing quality food for people, and we want them to be able to easily access it.
Diane: Whether it’s traveling across the country or in our own back yards, farmers like to help. As farmers we have learned first-hand the blessings that come with helping each other. Farming is a community unlike others. Maybe it’s because we all realize the dependency we have on God to do his thing when needed – rain, sunshine, warm weather. We know the reality of lack and having that fulfilled. I have said many times – “Give what you need and give when you need it the most. It becomes fertile soil for blessings to grow.”
Kip: As farmers we want people to enjoy our products. And, we want to help people, especially people who are in real need.
UDIM quickly launched the Milk Cooler Grant Pilot Program where dairy farmers were able to nominate Michigan food pantries to receive a refrigerator. The milk coolers ensure that pantries have the proper refrigerated space to store and distribute dairy foods to their clients.
Carla: My neighbor Nick Bancroft called me in April to ask about sourcing milk for Beacon of Hope Family Care Center, which is a food panty in St Johns. He said that the food pantry was serving 100 families per week and growing, in part due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Right after Nick’s call, I received an email from UDIM about the Milk Cooler Grant. I immediately contacted Karen Leif, the director of Beacon of Hope, to see if this would be helpful for them. She was so excited about the possibility of receiving a cooler dedicated to dairy foods. We worked on the grant and sent it in the same day.
Diane: “Why are you doing one more thing?” Someone asked when I was reaching out to food banks in our area. Yes, I’m busy. We all are busy. Yet, there are so many needs greater than ours. Some people can throw money at a problem and solve it. Others can take their profession and fix a void. As a dairy farmer there are no dollars laying around and I can’t share raw milk. But I could take some time to find places that were taking care of those who needed help and contribute.
Kip: When I heard that people wanted to donate milk and dairy products to food banks, but the pantries couldn’t keep it cool, I said “that’s a problem.” When I heard that UDIM had a new grant program, I said, “yes, let’s do this.” This grant allowed my family to help those in our community. It helped our food pantry get dairy foods to those in need in our own community.
Milk is one of the most requested food items but rarely donated due to its perishability. An eight-ounce glass of milk provides nine essential vitamins and minerals, including eight grams of protein, calcium and vitamin D that all bodies need.
Eighteen Michigan food pantries were awarded milk coolers to store dairy foods for their clients.
Carla: I got the news that Beacon of Hope did get the grant for the cooler, Karen Leif and I were so excited. We had already-donated dairy products, we had the place to store them, and now we would be able to help families in need. It was really all coming together. Karen and I met at Beacon of Hope when the cooler was delivered, and we were both so thankful how the community and UDIM worked together to make this happen.
Diane: If you are looking for ways to serve in your community – especially farm related, food related or just plain helping our neighbors, contact UDIM. There are many programs and they have a lot of ideas to help you get creative in your serving.
Kip: Since the milk cooler was installed, others in our area are now able to donate more dairy foods as they know the cooler will keep the foods safe. I encourage everyone, dairy farmers, business owners, local neighbors, to get involved with your community. You can learn a lot from neighbors and others in your town. There are food pantries all over our state that need more local support, ideas and programs to help them feed our communities. And always remember when you give to someone in need, it always comes back in one way or another, tenfold. I say, life’s short, give it all you got. Be kind, you never know what people might be going through.