Although milk is one of the most sought after nutrient-rich items, it’s one of the least available at most food pantries. In fact, it’s rarely donated due to strict regulations and a short shelf life. Fortunately, that’s changing at a few of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ food pantries, thanks to the Milk2MyPlate pilot program.

Milk2MyPlate is the first of its kind, bringing the dairy industry together around the issue of hunger. “The program was created in partnership with Feeding America, National Dairy Council and MilkPEP to elevate the awareness of the need for milk after learning that struggling families typically receive less than one gallon of milk per person a year,” explains Marley Sugar, RD, LD, Health & Wellness Program Manager, Midwest Dairy Council. “That falls way short of the recommended three servings of milk every day.”

Last fall, Harvesters became one of only five food banks across the U.S. to implement the pilot program with its partner agencies, including Catholic Charities. Each week, Hiland Dairy delivers a supply of fresh 2% low-fat milk directly to the food pantry for a consistent, affordable price.

Christy Mauro, who has been volunteering at the Overland Park food pantry for the last five years, says that it’s been an exciting change to be able to offer milk to families. “The families that we serve are so appreciative,” she says.

Offering milk has opened up conversation about healthy eating and nutrition among those utilizing food pantries. “In that sense, it goes beyond ’emergency feeding’ to a fuller conversation about long-term wellness,” says Jessica Kejr, Director of Program Services, Harvesters-The Community Food Network.

Catholic Charities, which currently has the Milk2MyPlate program implemented at its Overland Park, Olathe and Kansas City, Kansas locations, distributes a total of 208 half-gallons of milk each week.

“It’s important that those who shop in our pantries have access to healthy choices. Milk is nourishing not only for children, but it also helps meet the nutritional needs of the seniors who we serve,” says Dustin Hardison, Director of Stabilization and Housing, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, adding that there are plans to expand the program to Lawrence and Topeka.