Motivation to donate milk started with a newsletter – at least that’s how Ithaca FFA Advisor Kera Howell remembers it.
She read about FFA chapters donating milk in response to those in need during COVID-19.
Next thing Howell knew, students in her chapter donated 50 gallons of milk in 45 minutes. Now multiple Michigan organizations are following a similar donation path, including handing out supplies, potatoes, and dry beans.
“We didn't have anyone donate money toward us,” said Howell, an agriscience teacher at Ithaca public schools and advisor for the roughly 160-member FFA chapter. “We just used (the money) from our chapter funds.
“Since we're not doing some things that we would be at the end of the school year, we figured that would be a good way to kind of give back to our community, show the community that we're supporting them and showing our support for local dairy farmers in Ithaca.”
Howell said there are about four major dairy farmers located in mid-Michigan who teamed up with the Ithaca FFA to donate milk. Howell also packs lunches on Thursdays and Mondays as part of the school district’s Child Nutrition Program.
"There, school lunches can be picked up by students 18 years old or younger, or their parents,” said Howell, “and they don't even need to be from our school district.”
“When they come to pick up, they get seven meals for the week,” Howell said, noting that Gratiot County dairy farmers also supplied milk for sacked lunches, with each farmer donating 100 gallons of milk and dairy products per week, with that number expected to go up.
According to Katie Eisenberger, high school and collegiate programs specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau, FFA chapters continue to adjust to COVID-19 where they can.
"If that means social distancing while donating milk, so be it," Eisenberger said.
“This spring, there have been so many cancellations and changes for agriscience programs: what they teach, how they teach, the time spent building relationships with students, spring outreach programs, FFA competitions, and leadership development opportunities,” Eisenberger added.
“Pre-COVID, during COVID, and once this has all settled into whatever our new normal is — our educators consistently step up to a challenge and provide an amazing example of servant leadership for their students and community.”
Other farmer-led groups donating during the COVID-19 challenge include the Michigan Dry Bean Industry and Michigan Potato Industry. Both groups recently doled out commodity-specific products to state food banks.
Another group, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, announced in May a donation of milk refrigeration units to 18 local food banks.