Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Dairy Farmers Rally to Help Get Meals to Schoolchildren
Pennsylvania dairy farmer Marilyn Hershey has a nearby reminder of just how difficult the times are for some people in her county.
There is an organization about 15 minutes from her farm that has been feeding kids since the COVID-19 crisis started.
The idea of someone not knowing where their next meal will come from is something Hershey has a hard time relating to.
“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,” she said. “It wrenches my heart to think there are kids and families who face this daily reality.”
The crisis has shined a light not only on hunger issues but on the critical role schools play in providing USDA-supported meal programs for 30 million children who receive a significant amount of their daily nutrition from this effort. More than 124,000 public and private schools have closed because of the pandemic, putting those 30 million kids at further risk of going hungry.
Federal funding for these programs continues, but the closures are forcing school nutrition professionals and volunteers to get creative with how meals are distributed or delivered outside of the school environment. Efforts such as grab-and-go, drive through pick-up and bus stop drop-off are doing the trick, but they also have created other urgent needs. Schools lack resources that support off-site food storage, single-serve packaging, distribution, delivery and protective gear for safety or sanitation.
Fortunately, America’s dairy farm families have a resource in place to help. In 2010, they created GENYOUth, a nonprofit organization that helps build healthier school communities. GENYOUth brings together public and private sector organizations to generate funding and in-kind support for youth wellness programs, such as Fuel Up to Play 60 that dairy farmers created with the NFL.
GENYOUth recently launched “For Schools’ Sake – Help Us Feed Our Nation’s Kids!,” a call-for-action campaign to support schools and the extraordinary efforts they are taking to feed children at this time. The effort will provide grants of up to $3,000 per school.
“We want to do everything in our power to get as many Americans as we can engaged and make sure we are supporting our frontline workers at schools as they work tirelessly to ensure every child in America gets the nutrition they need,” said Alexis Glick, CEO of GENYOUth. “The kinds of folks I am seeing step up are from the Heartland. They’re farmers, athletes, corporations and foundations. This is a moment in time for us all to work together and make sure that our kids are fed, families are fed, and schools get the resources they need.”
In only five days, GENYOUth received 5,000 applications from schools seeking funds. The requests primarily focus on equipment for transportation, cold storage and safety and sanitation to enable school nutrition personnel to distribute and deliver meals outside of the school building.
Assisting Feeding America efforts
America’s dairy farmers have another important partnership they are assisting–Feeding America. COVID-19 has disrupted Feeding America’s nationwide network of 200 food banks. There are fewer volunteers due to social distancing concerns, decreased supplies of food from retail rescue and distribution challenges, especially in rural areas.
Promotion organizations across the country that work on behalf of dairy farmers are spreading the word through their communications channels to bring awareness to the challenges Feeding America faces and what can be done to help.
Among the ways are:
- Suggesting healthy people volunteer at their local food bank or agency. The www.feedingamerica.org 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 and 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 how people can donate online through the organization’s website.
“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,” Hershey said.