In the beginning of 2012, I never would have dreamed that Northern Illinois Food Bank would start a program that would be embraced by Feeding America and its member food banks. But let me start at the beginning.
Northern Illinois Food Bank serves 71,000 people in 13 counties in Northern Illinois. Steve Ericson, Director of Food Procurement, and I were in the process of evolving our procuring practice to include more nutritious foods for our clients using MyPlate as our guide, when we realized that our dairy section was completely empty! We were completely missing a portion of the plate that provides important nutrients like calcium to the diets of American children and adults. That realization inspired us to set a new goal for the program to provide a constant supply of fresh, low-fat milk to Northern Illinois Food Bank pantries at a consistent, affordable price.
In our search for milk donors and suppliers we met with Prairie Farms Dairy in Rockford, Illinois, to explain our pilot program, Milk2MyPlate, that would provide fresh milk in our food pantries. Our challenge was to find milk at an affordable price in order for the program to be effective and grow. Thankfully, Prairie Farms agreed to help keep our milk affordable and also to deliver the milk straight from their refrigerated systems to the refrigerators in our food banks. So we started a pilot program with six food pantries to distribute 2,000 gallons per week.
Since the start of our program in October 2012 through January 2016, we:
- Reached our initial short-term goal of delivering 400-500 gallons (or ~8,000 servings) of milk per week, which we achieved in just the first month
- Reached our mid-term goal of delivering 4,000-5,000 gallons (or ~80,000 servings) of milk per month, which we achieved just nine months after starting
- Distributed an average of 18,000 gallons of milk per month for the entire program, which could be translated 288,000 glasses of milk per month
- Distributed over 337,000 gallons (or more than 5 million 8 oz. servings!) of milk to our food insecure neighbors
Our ultimate, long-term objective is for every household we serve to receive one gallon of fresh milk per month, and we hope to achieve this goal by the end of 2022.
The Milk2MyPlate program is now being used as a model for other food banks in the Feeding America network. I’d consider it a humble honor if what we started could help assure children from financially-stressed families, seniors, and others across the county have access to the essential nutrients found in milk. You can get involved by making a donation to support our Milk2MyPlate Program at SolveHungerToday.org/Dairy. And, you can support getting milk to those in need in your community through The Great American Milk Drive.