Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Ontario dairy farmers will ramp up their milk donations to food banks across the province, with Dairy Farmers of Ontario contributing up to an additional 200,000 litres.
“Food banks, on a regular basis, are always in need of additional milk,” said Carolyn Stewart, the executive director of Feed Ontario, which represents food banks across the province.
“This donation just goes above and beyond the commitment that the industry has already made.”
Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) will donate $100,000, plus up to 200,000 litres of milk in increments, which will accompany the more than one million litres that it already donates to food banks every year with the Ontario Dairy Council and the Ontario Milk Transport Association.
The total litres of milk that are donated to Feed Ontario will support more than 500,000 people as the province grapples with fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the beginning of all this, we quickly recognized there was a lot of people who were going to be out of jobs and going to struggle to make ends meet,” Murray Sherk, the chair of Dairy Farmers of Ontario, told Global News.
“We initially did the $100,000 donation to Feed Ontario in order to help with that. After that, we wanted also to be able to contribute actual dairy products, and so we then were able to work out a program where we’re going to be able to donate up to 200,000 litres more.”
Since Ontario activated its COVID-19 emergency declaration, food banks across the province have been distributing more food to people, according to Stewart.
“Food banks across the province usually give anywhere from about five to 10 days worth of food on a regular basis, but they were trying to give anywhere up to two weeks worth of food, so that people didn’t have to leave the house as frequently,” Stewart said.
“It’s actually placed a huge demand on their services.”
Food banks also haven’t been able to hold spring food drives or events, where they would normally recruit donations, Stewart added.
“They’re actually having to purchase a lot of food, and so that’s actually taking a lot of their funding that they would normally direct to other things.”
A 2019 Feed Ontario report found that 510,438 people accessed a food bank last year, an increase of 8,848 over the previous year.
“If we look at the 2008 recession, which really hit the economy hard here in Canada and in Ontario, food banks actually saw the ripple effect of that for years afterward,” Stewart said.
“We saw the highest amount of food bank users ever in 2010.”
“Given how (COVID-19) has impacted employment to the economy in Ontario, we foresee the need for our services increasing.”
Several weeks ago, Dairy Farmers of Ontario informed producers that disposing of milk would be “necessary on a select and rotating basis” largely due to a reduction in demand from food service providers and the hospitality industry.
According to Sherk, however, dairy farmers haven’t been disposing of milk for a few weeks.
“We disposed of milk one weekend about three weeks ago and we haven’t had to since,” Sherk said.
“At this time, we don’t expect to have to dispose of milk again. Production and demand are aligning, and we’ve done a lot of work on a number of fronts, including donating to food banks.”
Dairy Farmers of Ontario has supported food banks across the province for 25 years through Feed Ontario.