Meeting hunger needs with milk

The Recorder, August 19, 2020. Staff Report

In a period of three months, the coronavirus pandemic drove unemployment rates higher than at any point during the two years of the Great Recession. The implications are profound.

In Massachusetts, more than 600,000 people — 38 percent of the state’s residents in March — have reported facing hunger.

As part of an effort to feed those families in need, a number of Massachusetts organizations have come up with a solution: Milk.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put tremendous pressure on individuals, families and communities throughout New England. Local dairy farmers are proud to support those in need, and we, as New England Dairy, are honored to work with and bring together such dedicated partners to serve Western Massachusetts and beyond,” said Annalise Kieley, a farmer relations specialist with New England Dairy, one of the organizations in a coalition that’s currently distributing dairy to families in need.

According to a press statement, “New England Dairy and the dairy farmers of the region saw an opportunity to work with partners on priorities identified by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts through their COVID-19 Response Fund. New England Dairy was eager to connect with Rachel’s Table, who applied for and received a $25,000 grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley from the Community Foundation, made possible by the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund.”

Since March, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts has distributed more than $6.3 million to Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire County nonprofit organizations. Early on, the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley was established to provide grants to community nonprofit organizations serving the needs of the most vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic.

To that end, members of New England Dairy worked with Rachel’s Table, a food rescue program of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., to identify Mapleline Farm in Hadley and its herd of 200 Jersey cows as the primary supplier of the milk. Distribution began in Hampden County on Aug. 17, followed by distributions in Hampshire and Franklin Counties. About 2,210 gallons of milk, purchased using $10,000 of the grant, will be distributed to area agencies and nonprofits. In turn, the milk will be given to area families in need.

“We feel fortunate to help distribute nutritious milk to so many of our agencies. We truly are in this together and creating this partnership to make sure families can receive rich farm-fresh milk has been one of the silver linings of this pandemic. We are grateful to all who came together for the good of many,” said Jodi Falk, director of Rachel’s Table, in a statement. Dairy, which contains nine essential nutrients including calcium, potassium and vitamin D, can play a role in addressing nutritional needs, the statement says.

“Our family and farm employees are deeply rooted in this community and it brings us great pride and joy to have the opportunity to provide our milk to families at a challenging time,” said Jessica Dizek, co-owner of Mapleline Farm. “We are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this partnership and hope our milk not only fills a family’s nutritional needs but that they simply enjoy it.”