The simple pleasure of having milk with cereal in the morning is a special treat for the one in six Washingtonians who rely on their local food bank for sustenance.
Northwest Harvest, a non-profit organization that fights hunger and food insecurity in Washington state, this year marks the fifth anniversary of a program with area company Darigold to provide a relative rarity in food banks – fresh milk.
Since 2013, Darigold and Northwest Harvest have joined forces to donate and distribute 83,000 gallons of milk statewide in monthly donations to food banks, including the North Sound’s Bellingham Food Bank, Nooksack Valley Food Bank, Helping Hands Food Bank, Project Hope Food Bank, and Blaine Food Bank.
The donated milk is produced at Darigold’s plant in Portland, Oregon. It is ultra-pasteurized, meaning it has a longer shelf-life and therefore travels easier. From Portland, the donated milk is transported by truck to the Northwest Harvest warehouse in Kent, and distributed from there.
In Whatcom, San Juan, and Skagit counties, Northwest Harvest works with a total 21 food banks, feeding more than 245,000 families. Darigold has donated more than 80,000 pounds (9,412 gallons) of milk to this area over the years.
According to the Bellingham Food Bank, a partner of Northwest Harvest, 35 percent of its guests are children. Milk is an essential part of children’s diets, but due to difficulties with transportation and storage, it is a rarity in food banks.
Darigold, headquartered in Seattle, is owned by more than 500 dairy farmers who are members of the Northwest Dairy Association, located in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Northern California, and Montana—112 of these farmers are located in Whatcom, Skagit, and San Juan County.
“We never thought we’d have fresh milk, and are happy to receive it from our local dairy,” said one food bank client, unidentified due to privacy concerns. Another, in Skagit County, said fresh milk is a rare find in food banks. “It saved our family money this summer.”
Northwest Harvest distributes more than 33 million pounds of food to 375 food banks, meal programs, and high need schools throughout the state each year—of that, dairy is only 2 percent of the food distributed. Although Darigold’s donations have greatly helped communities throughout the state, there is still a significant need for milk in food banks, said Jenn Tennent, director of the Hunger Response Network at Northwest Harvest.
“This partnership is great, but in the grand scheme of it we serve so many partners, and we only get about 640 cases [of milk] a month, which is really great, but that’s not enough to provide milk across the state in a way that we would love to do,” Tennent said.
Tennent said one of the most helpful ways people and organizations can help, is by donating money to their local food bank. Often times, food banks are able to purchase products for far less than they are regularly priced.
No donation is too small, and a little can go a long way—just $20 can feed a family of four three meals a day for an entire week. According to feedingamerica.org, the food insecurity rate in Whatcom County is 14.7 percent, higher than the state average of 13.7 percent.
Click here to read about this month’s game changer.