Q&A: How We Get Milk to Kids in Need

The Great American Milk Drive
June 27, 2017
by Brooke Still

For growing kids, milk packs a punch — providing essential nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin D. But for the 22 million children who may lose access to school meals during the summer months, they’re likely not getting regular access to the nine essential nutrients that milk provides and that can help support summer growth spurts. This creates a unique challenge for Feeding America food banks that are working to fill the gaps in kids’ meals because milk is highly perishable. In fact, 95% of food banks say they don’t receive enough milk to meet the demand.

The Great American Milk Drive answers that need. Since 2014, it has provided more than 1 million gallons of milk to Feeding America food banks across the country.

We chatted with Feeding San Diego CEO Vince Hall about the food bank’s experience providing milk, and how The Great American Milk Drive has made a difference for the people they serve.

Q: How often are you able to distribute milk?

A: We try to provide milk to our agency partners (like food pantries or summer meal providers), who in turn distribute it to folks in need, as often as we can. Over the years, we’ve strived to build better systems to allow for more dairy donations, and recently dairy has actually grown to be the third most donated food category (by poundage) behind fresh produce and bread and bakery products. Over the last 10 months, we were able to provide more than 1.5 million pounds of donated milk to our partners because of programs like The Great American Milk Drive, which have a huge impact on communities and families struggling to get enough nutritious foods.

Q: What are some challenges that come with delivering milk to people in need, and how do you meet those challenges?

A: Milk, like other foods that require proper refrigeration (eggs, cheese, meat), poses challenges for us and many other food banks across the Feeding America network. It’s just like when you’re at the grocery store, you know when you put milk in your cart you can’t linger too long before getting it to your refrigerator at home.

In order to make sure we’re always distributing refrigerated foods safely, we’ve learned how to work quickly and smartly to make sure all perishable items can make it to a family facing hunger. We’ve worked with Feeding America to purchase refrigerators and refrigerated vehicles that increase our capacity to accept milk donations and effectively deliver them to areas of need. We’ve explored new delivery models that enable our partners to work directly with retailers and grocers to decrease the time it takes for a donation of milk to make it to a family.

In fact, The Great American Milk Drive helps us solve some of these problems instantly. While we’ve been working to combat the challenges associated with the storing and transport of perishable items like milk, the milk drive allows us to provide milk in the form of vouchers. So instead of routing additional milk through food banks and agencies, it allows families facing hunger to shop directly in grocery stores. Dairy is a highly desired item that also provides key nutrients, so it’s a priority for us to always be finding new ways to make it available to the people we serve.

Q: How often is milk donated to your food bank?

A: We’re very happy to be able to provide milk to our partners, and on average we receive about 150,000 pounds of donated dairy each month. With demand for dairy high, we’d love to continue to grow these donations. Milk is absolutely a priority item for us to provide to our families in need. And it aligns with our nutrition policy and helps round out USDA’s MyPlate recommendations.

Q: How has your food bank’s experience been with The Great American Milk Drive? How has it changed the amount of milk you're able to provide?

A: Fantastic! We are always happy to have the opportunity to help families connect with healthy foods. The model for The Great American Milk Drive — in which the people we serve receive vouchers — makes it easy for families to pick up the milk they want while at the grocery store.

It’s easy for anyone to make a donation to The Great American Milk Drive, and for as little as $5, a half-gallon or more of fresh milk is donated to a family in need. Each donation of $5 funds a voucher that allows families to pick up the type of milk that suits their family’s needs. So while a family is grocery shopping for the essentials, they don’t have to skip the milk aisle and instead can choose the fresh milk that works for them.

Photo courtesy of The Great American Milk Drive