Meyers says she and her client families were more than thrilled to hear about the donation, since the food bank has rarely been able to offer fresh milk. The towns served by Meyers' food bank, Sunnyside and Outlook, sit in what is considered to be one of the state's poorest areas, Yakima Valley, which garners few donations from local stores.
A struggle for storage
So far, storage of the donated milk hasn't been an issue for the Seventh Day Adventist food bank, which utilizes a 9 x 12 walk-in cooler provided by the church. When Second Harvest informed food banks about the forthcoming donation, everyone jumped at the opportunity to provide their constituents with the prized product—every food bank except one.
The reason? Lack of storage space for such a large volume of a perishable item. To prevent this kind of situation, Wieber believes that food banks need to create the capacity to store highly-perishable items like fresh produce and dairy, which provide especially important nutrients for food-insecure families.
When Wieber joined Second Harvest in November 2006, just 35 percent of the organization's inventory was perishable. Today, that number has risen to 65 percent, thanks to an increase in donations by farmers who help provide fresh produce. Items like boxed macaroni and cheese and canned soup now come mainly from Second Harvest's food drives. The State of Washington's agricultural yield is above average, which allows organizations like Second Harvest to successfully reach out to local farmers for donations.
“Clients take whatever is available, but more and more, our food inventory has turned to highly-perishable product. So in turn, food banks and smaller pantries have had to change to accommodate perishable items. They had to change their mindset and start building that infrastructure and capacity and invest in larger fridges and coolers,” says Wieber.
In fact, until October 2012, Second Harvest relied upon a 5,000 square-foot facility with an 80 square-foot cooler—an increasingly small space for a distribution center that now feeds 48,000 people a week. Finally, the organization realized that they needed to keep up with the change in volume of perishable products. They purchased land in Pasco, Wash., where volunteers helped build a 14,000 square foot facility containing 2,000 square feet of refrigeration and 2,000 square feet of freezer space.
For many food banks, it will take time and money to build up the proper infrastructure, and more refrigeration space means a bigger electricity bill.
“Larger food banks can lean on their community. But we will see more of this type of perishable donation. This is the way of the future,” Wieber says.
“Dairy’s nutrients such as calcium, protein, potassium and more are critical for a healthy diet, yet dairy foods only make up about 5% of the foods distributed nationwide by food banks. And for those who aren't able to access it, well, we think they should have access regardless,” Wavrin declares.