Helping Those in Need Core to Farmers, Checkoff Work

  • Article
  • 4 min read April 1, 2020
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

There is an organization about 15 minutes from my farm that has been feeding kids since the COVID-19 crisis started.

It got me to thinking that I can’t relate. I don’t know what it’s like to be food insecure because I have been around food production my whole life and we have never gone without.

Take a moment and try to imagine what that must feel like; to be hungry and not have a reliable source of food to turn to. It wrenches my heart to think there are kids and families who face this daily reality. 

It’s unfortunate that it takes a worldwide crisis such as COVID-19 to shine a light on an issue that’s been there all along. The fact it’s in our small county shows hunger isn’t just a big-city issue. It’s here and it’s likely in your town, too.

None of us intentionally turns a blind eye toward hunger, but we get so wrapped up in our daily grind that it becomes easy to forget the everyday real-world problems our neighbors may be dealing with.

Children’s health and wellness, as well as hunger issues, are longtime priorities of dairy farmers and our checkoff. It’s why we direct checkoff funds at schools where it’s staggering to think this is where as many as 30 million U.S. kids receive their daily source of nutrition through USDA feeding programs. There are about 124,000 public and private schools closed because of the pandemic. 

So, what do those 30 million kids do now?

Fortunately, federal funding is keeping the pipeline moving. But school nutrition professionals and volunteers are forced to use creative ways to get the food to kids, including grab-and-go, drive through pick-up and bus stop drop-off.

You see so many heroic efforts during difficult times and the workers making sure this food supply continues have my respect and appreciation.

But they need help and GENYOUth, an organization that dairy farmers created to bring more non-checkoff funds into schools and our Fuel Up to Play 60 program, is stepping up. GENYOUth launched “For Schools’ Sake – Help Us Feed Our Nation’s Kids!” that serves as a call-for-action campaign to help those on the front lines at schools get resources they need to better feed hungry children.

The effort aims to provide grants of up to $3,000 per school. This is a reasonable goal because we have an organization such as GENYOUth in place that has the relationships that can move the needle. GENYOUth annually generates more than $1 million at its Gala that is attended by major corporations, foundations, athletes, influencers and others to benefit Fuel Up to Play 60 and other programs. These same companies and individuals will be asked again to put their support behind our children.

Separately, our checkoff teams – national and locally – are working with Feeding America, a partner of ours since 2012. Dairy is one of the most requested – and least available – food items at Feeding America’s nationwide network of 200 food banks. Yet, the checkoff last year helped grow access to dairy with 353 million pounds of milk, cheese and yogurt reaching 40 million Feeding America clients.

But, COVID-19 has disrupted its work stream, too. There are fewer volunteers due to social distancing concerns, decreased supplies of food from retail rescue and distribution challenges, especially to rural areas. 
DMI and our 16 state and regional checkoff teams are spreading the word across their communications channels to bring awareness to the dire situation Feeding America is facing and what can be done to help.
Among the ways are:

  • Suggesting healthy people volunteer at their local food bank or agency. The site can identify local offices where volunteers are considered “essential” amid shelter-in-place guidelines.
  • Encouraging foodservice, retail and consumer packaged goods companies to donate food or supplies to their local food bank.
  • Providing refrigeration equipment, cleaning supplies, boxes/bags for distribution of provisions. Food banks need refrigerated trucks to deliver food to rural areas.
  • Communicate Feeding America’s needs via your social channels and share that people can donate online through the organization’s website.

One great thing that comes from a time of crisis is that you see goodness rise to the top. People want to help others. Let’s use the collective power and reach of our social media channels to spread the word for how our friends and family can help these efforts.

As a dairy farmer who rises every day to produce food, I can’t think of a more appropriate thing to do than help those who start their days much differently – in uncertainty of where their next meal will come from.



If you want to talk about GENYOUth, Feeding America and all the things your checkoff is doing during this crisis, I encourage you to reach out to me through
If you’d like to join the Facebook conversation about the national dairy checkoff, ask to join the Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group