MONTPELIER, Vt (WCAX) A partial solution is in the works for two COVID-related problems plaguing Vermont -- many in need of food assistance have inundated local food banks, and some dairy producers who lost key markets have been dumping surplus milk.
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, the food bank has seen up to a 100% increase in the number of people who are reaching out for help accessing food. The pandemic is really creating a food access crisis unlike anything we've ever seen in the history of food banking," said the organization's Nicole Whalen.
Thanks to a $60,000 donation from the Vermont Community Foundation and coordination from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the food bank will receive over 1,100 gallons of milk every week for the next 10 weeks.
"Donations like this of fresh dairy, that is nutritious and good for people can can help people sustain their health is so important right now," Whalen said. Those donations began coming in on Tuesday. They'll be receiving 3,500 cases of yogurt throughout the month of May.
But food-insecure Vermonters aren't the only ones benefiting from the dairy buyout. Since the beginning of the pandemic, agriculture officials have been working to help milk producers who have been stuck with surplus product because of restaurant and school closures and dairy market purchase caps. With nowhere for the milk to go, many were forced to dump product.
"We thought that was a terrible waste. It was not good for the farmer because they're not making money off of that milk and that it's also just going to waste, and there's a tremendous need out there, with high unemployment and people losing their jobs," said Vt. Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. "Any milk that does not have to be disposed of is good for the farmer. And $60,000 is a good start, we hope, to build upon this."
Aside from the state's efforts, the Vermont Dairy Producers Alliance along with Dairy Farmers of America, Bourdeau Brothers and Pleasant Valley Farms of Berkshire are donating milk products as well, including 4,000 gallons to two locations in Middlebury and St. Albans Friday.
"Right now, dairy farmers are really struggling through COVID-19 and they recognize that a lot of other people within the community are struggling. And Vermont dairy farmers really care about their communities, they really believe that we're all in this together and so I think this was kind of just a way to recognize that and come together and donate milk that we have to the families in need," said Elle Purrier, a Vermont Dairy Producers Alliance farmer.
The milk donations Friday take place from 12 to 3 p.m. or until supplies last at:
Bourdeau Brothers, 88 Seymour Street, Middlebury
The St. Albans Cooperative Creamery Store, 138 Federal Street, St. Albans