Today’s food banks are placing a greater emphasis on providing fresh food for hungry families in their communities. Choices generally include fruits, vegetables and meat, but often milk isn’t part of the selection.
Milk is one of the most requested items among food bank clients, yet it is rarely donated because it is perishable. Recognizing this was an opportunity to also provide families in need with milk’s essential nutrients, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank took a bold step in 2014 to begin providing its 900 partner agencies with a sustainable supply of fresh milk. It’s been so successful, the agency earned the Outstanding Achievement in Community Partnerships award from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
Working with numerous community partners, including Harrisburg Dairies, Schneider’s Dairy, Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, Pennsylvania Dairy Promotion Program and Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank now provides 5,000 quarts, or 20,000 servings, of milk per week to families in need. According to Joe Arthur, executive director, the program surpassed a major milestone in 2015 – the first full year of operation – when it provided more than 1 million servings of milk.
One partner agency benefitting from the fresh milk program, known as Fill a Glass with Hope, is the Northern Dauphin Food Pantry in Elizabethville, Pa. Owned and operated by the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, the food pantry is located in a “a very rural area where transportation is a huge problem,” according to Suzy Blough, who manages overall operations.
“We have no access to public transportation, taxi services or bus routes and there are very few outlets to obtain groceries,” Blough said. “This makes it difficult for our clients to get food items, including milk.”
Focused on “wellness versus fullness,” Blough is pleased to offer fresh milk along with fresh fruits and vegetables. Approximately 80 quarts of milk are delivered once per week to the food pantry, providing enough milk every day for every client.
“My clients are always grateful for all they receive here at our pantry, but they are especially thankful for the milk,” Blough said, noting that many children now start their day with a nutritious breakfast of cereal and milk that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Makayla is one of those children. When she came to the food pantry two years ago, she was 4 years old and homeless. With her bright red hair and easy smile, she quickly won the hearts of the food pantry’s staff. Within a short time, she become the poster child – literally – for the fresh milk program.
Makayla’s photo has appeared in posters and social media posts promoting the program. She was even the guest of honor at a Fill a Glass with Hope event In June 2015 held to announce that $150,000 had been raised to support the fresh milk program.
Makayla is now 6 years old, and Blough marvels at what the Fill a Glass with Hope program has done for this young girl.
“It has changed her life,” Bough said. “It has given her confidence and a great start on life.”