Food insecurity is prevalent across the country, including in Missouri, where 1 in 7 households struggle to provide a consistent supply of food. Nonperishable food items are easy to find at most local food pantries, but milk, which provides nine essential nutrients as well as protein to people of all ages, has historically been unavailable to food pantry clients.
“People served by food pantries receive less than one gallon of milk per person per year,” says Monica Palmer, communications director for Feeding Missouri, a nonprofit coalition of six food banks working to provide hunger relief in Missouri.
Often, milk and other fresh, nutrient-rich foods are too expensive for families to purchase. But thanks to innovative partnerships, more food-insecure Missourians are gaining access to milk.
Great American Milk Drive
The Great American Milk Drive has provided more than 1 million gallons of milk nationwide since its creation in 2014. In Missouri, more than 16,875 gallons of milk have been distributed to people in need through the program.
“The Great American Milk Drive uses a voucher system to get milk into hands of those who need it most,” says Ron Grusenmeyer, manager of farmer relations for Midwest Dairy. “Anyone can donate money to the program, and that money is used to provide milk vouchers to food banks.”
The food pantries distribute those vouchers to clients, who can visit participating retail stores and purchase milk using the voucher.
“This program aligns with the dairy industry’s commitment to addressing hunger,” Grusenmeyer says. “And it’s a win-win for everyone – farmers sell more milk, and milk gets into hands of people who need it.”
Milk to My Plate
Milk to My Plate is an extension of the Great American Milk Drive created through a partnership among Feeding America, local food banks, milk processors and dairy check-off programs like Midwest Dairy. The program provides fresh milk directly to food banks at an affordable price.
“Food banks and milk processors don’t run in the same circles, but as a farmer group, Midwest Dairy has relationships with both,” Grusenmeyer says. “The idea was to connect the two circles and provide a steady supply of milk directly from the processor to the food banks.”
Prairie Farms Dairy is a farmer-owned cooperative that bottles and distributes milk across several Midwestern states. It provides 4,250 gallons of milk to food banks each month through the Milk to My Plate program.
“This program fits right in with the values of Prairie Farms,” says Gary Davis, national sales manager for Prairie Farms. “It’s important for us to serve the communities where we do business, and we are passionate about getting milk into the hands of those who need it most.”
Currently, two of Missouri’s six food banks are participating in the Milk to My Plate program, says Jessica Mackey, RD, manager of wellness at Midwest Dairy.
“It is so exciting to work with these food banks and see their creativity and excitement about the program,” she says. “We are hoping other food banks in the state pick up on the success they’re having and want to join in, too.”