PARKER, S.D. – In a move never seen before, Midwest Dairy is reallocating $500,000 worth of checkoff dollars to food banks in the 10-state region the organization represents.
    The funds will be used to purchase dairy products for people in need during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
    “We know that a growing number of individuals and families are experiencing tough times right now leading food banks to see an increased demand in food, especially those that are high in nutrients like dairy,” Allen Merrill said. “We’re hoping this donation will help those who are facing food insecurity have more consistent access to dairy foods.”
    Merrill serves as the Midwest Dairy board chairman and is a dairy farmer from Parker.
    When the dairy organization became aware of the challenges food banks were facing, they submitted a proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture to use checkoff dollars to get dairy into the hands of people who are food insecure. Typically, checkoff money cannot be used to purchase product
    The proposal was approved, and Midwest Dairy has invited milk processors throughout the region to be involved in the program. According to a press release, the following processors were invited to participate in the program: Agropur, Associated Milk Producers Inc., Anderson Erickson Dairy, Bel Brands, Bongards, Cass Clay, Dairy Farmers of America, Dean Foods, First District Association, Hiland, KanPak, Kemps, Land O’Lakes, Midwest Dairymen, Plainview Milk Products, Prairie Farms, Valley Queen and Wapsie Valley.
    These partnerships will help determine which dairy products are available, and then connect processors to food shelves that have the need for such dairy products and the ability to increase their dairy inventory and distribution.
    “Making this connection between processors and food banks also helps dairy farmers because it helps move more milk through the supply chain and into the hands of individuals and families who need it and can enjoy it,” Merrill said.
    With USDA’s approval of Midwest Dairy’s proposal, the funds became available immediately. Midwest Dairy is encouraging food shelves to use the money to purchase dairy products as soon as possible but no later than the end of June.
    In addition to the monetary donation, the dairy organization has provided communities with supplies to effectively distribute dairy.
    The organization donated 68 commercial refrigerators to food shelves across the 10-state region, many of which are in rural communities. They have also provided schools with additional refrigerator equipment – more than 1,500 cooler bags and 100 barrel coolers – to help keep dairy products cold as students receive delivery meals.
    “Many children rely on school meals for a substantial portion of their daily nutrition, and schools have had to get creative about how they serve those meals during school closures,” Merrill said. “(This equipment) will help students to continue to receive dairy products through alternative feeding methods.”
    As a dairy farmer, Merrill hopes these donations, as well as the unique way in using checkoff dollars, will further build the relationship between the dairy industry and consumers.
    “Though this ($500,000) donation is outside the usual scope of checkoff activities, this project aligns with (our) goals to bring dairy to life for consumers by making sure all consumers have access to enjoy nutritious dairy foods, particularly during challenging times,” Merrill said. “We hope this donation continues to inspire trust in our products and builds upon valuable relationships within our community for years to come.”