We're all familiar with the "Got Milk?" campaign of the past two decades. The fact of the matter is, though, that for the most vulnerable in our communities, a glass of milk may come as often as New Year's Day.
Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger organization, found in 2012 that dairy products made up just 5 percent of the food distributed through its network of more than 200 food banks nationally. That's the equivalent of about one gallon of milk per person in poverty.
For the past three years, Northern Illinois Food Bank has been working to change that, and in December 2015 distributed its 5 millionth serving of milk through its Milk2MyPlate Program. To celebrate the milestone, a group of program donors, dairy farmers, representatives from the dairy industry and participating food pantries came together Monday, Jan. 11 for a special reception at Northern Illinois Food Bank's West Suburban Center in Geneva.
"Milk is the most requested item our hungry neighbors ask for," said Steve Ericson, director of food procurement at Northern Illinois Food Bank.
Yet, because of its shelf-life and need for refrigeration, milk is the least donated product the Food Bank receives.
Realizing that milk contains nutrients important at every age, and knowing the demand for milk at food pantries, Northern Illinois Food Bank reached out to regional dairy manufacturer Prairie Farms Dairy to create the Milk2MyPlate Program. Northern Illinois Food Bank member pantries opt into the Milk2MyPlate Program, sharing the cost of the milk with the Food Bank. Prairie Farms Dairy delivers directly to the pantries, making the milk as fresh as or more fresh than what is available at the grocery store.
Today, more than 40 community food pantries across 12 Illinois counties receive weekly deliveries of fresh gallons of 1 percent milk for distribution to hungry men, women and children through Northern Illinois Food Bank's Milk2MyPlate Program, totaling about 15,000 gallons each month.
"Partnering with Northern Illinois Food Bank to implement the Milk2MyPlate program exemplifies our commitment to being good neighbors and making sure fresh, delicious and nutritious milk is available for families to enjoy every single day," said Emily Hereford, Prairie Farms public relations program manager.
Northern Illinois Food Bank's Milk2MyPlate program has been nationally recognized by The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® and serves as a model for Feeding America food banks across the nation.
Milk2MyPlate is entirely dependent upon funding from private individuals and corporate and foundation supporters, including: Boeing Employees Community Fund, Chicago Community Trust, The Christopher Family Foundation, Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, DuPage Foundation Donor Advised Funds, Kane County Farm Bureau, and the Illinois Farm Bureau. A $60 donation helps Northern Illinois Food Bank provide a gallon of milk every week for a year to a local family in need. To donate, visit www.solvehungertoday.org/dairy.