KANSAS CITY — Hunger has no boundaries and is a problem that exists in all communities — urban, suburban and rural. Many people do not realize hunger impacts one in six Americans.

Most of us have donated cans and boxes of non-perishable foods, especially around the Thanksgiving holiday, the most common food drive time of the year. But the 12.5 million American families who do not have access to adequate nourishment to help them reach their full potential cannot live off of non-perishable foods alone. They could certainly benefit from nutrient-dense dairy products, in particular milk.

Lana Frantzen, vice-president of health and wellness for the National Dairy Council, accepted the first milk donation in Texas from former Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jay Novacek at the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas. As of April 7th, 1,356 gallons have been donated to food banks in Texas. The food banks serve more than 4.8 million families across the state.

 

Milk is one of the items most requested by food bank clients, yet there is a nationwide shortage because it is rarely donated, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization. The refrigerated distribution logistics from warehouse to kitchen are challenging. But this will soon change, thanks to The Great American Milk Drive, the first-ever national program to help deliver highly desired and nutrient-rich gallons of milk to families who need it most.

The Great American Food Drive is made possible by the nation’s dairy industry. The goal of the year-long campaign is to deliver two million gallons of milk to food banks across the country. The Great American Milk Drive is a collaboration of the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) and The National Dairy Council with Feeding America.

In Phoenix, numerous industry representatives attended the campaign kickoff. Pictured are, from left to right, Sandy Kelly, vice-president of marketing, Shamrock Farms Dairy Division, Phoenix; Derrick Hall, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks; Tammy Baker, registered dietitian and general manager, Arizona Milk Producers, Tempe, Ariz.; Craig Caballero, vice-president, United Dairyman of Arizona, and president, Arizona Milk Dairy Council, Tempe, Ariz.; and Jerry Brown, director of public relations at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.

 

Media events occurred in 10 cities, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix and Seattle, and included sports and entertainment celebrities, as well as local dairy industry professionals, all of them encouraging Americans to help feed Americans. Initially the campaign instructs Americans to make a financial donation via web site or text message. By entering their zip code, the milk donation goes to their community’s food bank. Depending on refrigeration logistics, food bank clients either receive a gallon of milk or a voucher to purchase any brand and any type of gallon of milk (up to $5) at their retailer of choice.

What many consumers do not realize is there are people all around them who are pressured financially due to a convergence of economic stresses, which means more people are turning to food banks for help. Compared to four years ago, one million more people are seeking emergency food assistance from the Feeding America network each week. Increasingly, food banks have introduced nutrition criteria for the meals served to clients. More than two-thirds of the groceries distributed by the Feeding America network meet Feeding America’s “Foods to encourage” guideline, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines, which include a serving of milk.

A recent network survey of Feeding America food banks revealed that 94% of respondents are actively working on improving the nutritional quality of meals provided to food bank clients. Yet, 95% of those surveyed say they do not receive enough milk to meet the demand. The No. 1 reason cited is inadequate milk donations. Feeding America participants currently receive the equivalent of less than one gallon of milk per person per year. That’s far short of the recommended three servings of milk a day.

Prairie Farms Dairy, Carlinville, Ill., has long been a supporter of getting milk on the table of Illinois families who do not have access to adequate nourishment.

 

Milk tops the list of the food items most requested by food bank participants (85%), followed by fresh fruits (77%) and fresh vegetables (74%). While several recent initiatives have focused on getting more produce into feeding programs, The Great American Milk Drive is the first program to help resolve the milk shortage.

“Adding more nutritious options at mealtimes is important for all families, but especially so for those who rely on America’s food banks,” said Robin Brown, registered dietitian, Midwest Dairy Council, at the nationwide campaign kickoff in Chicago. “Milk can help power potential for all of us, but only if you have access to it. Now is our chance to get more nutritious food to those who need it most.”

Donations may be tracked by state at: http://milklife.com/give/donation-tracker.