Six Yakima Valley dairies have banded together to donate 25,000 gallons of milk this year to hungry families in the Tri-Cities and Yakima area.
The milk, valued at $60,000, will be distributed through Second Harvest Tri-Cities to area food banks, with about 400 gallons available per week.
Involved in the initiative, called Dairy for Life, are Bill Wavrin and his brother, Sid Wavrin, of Sunny Dene Ranch in Mabton; Jake and Genny DeRuyter of DeRuyter Brothers Dairy; Dan and Carolyn DeGroot of Skyridge Farms; Tom and Heather deVries of deVries Family Dairy; the Dolsen families of Cow Palace; and the Aquilini family, Henry and Lori Oord, and Jon and Lori Wheeler of Sunnyside Dairy.
Bill Wavrin said he and the other farmers hope to see the effort continue beyond a year, with other dairies joining in.
"We recognize that sometimes people fall on hard times and can't afford it," Wavrin said. "This year is 25,000 gallons, but we hope next year is more."
At Second Harvest's new Pasco warehouse Monday, Darigold gallon jugs of 2 percent milk were ready to be delivered to the food banks that Second Harvest serves.
Milk began arriving at one of those food banks -- Tri-Cities Food Banks -- a few weeks ago, said Executive Director John Neill. It surprised the food banks' clients, because while grocery stores donate food, milk typically is sold before it nears the expiration date.
The food banks in Kennewick, Richland and Benton City serve about 800 families a week. Neill said they hope to get some milk every couple of weeks from the dairies, with priority given to families with children, Neill said.
"They are not used to seeing it," Neill said. "It was really helpful. Milk is just one of those things that people don't donate."
Cassie Hurley, Second Harvest Tri-Cities development director, said this is the first time the nonprofit has been able to offer fluid milk on a regular basis to food banks serving about 55,000 people a month.
That commitment is unique, and the farmers are providing something that is important to a healthy diet, she said. Meeting nutritional needs is more difficult for families who are struggling because food such as milk and fresh produce can be expensive.
About 1 in 7 people in the Mid-Columbia are hungry or at risk of being hungry, Hurley said.
Second Harvest is providing the logistics necessary to get the milk to food banks without risk of spoiling, Wavrin said. The nonprofit's new warehouse made it easier to help food banks in the local area.
Wavrin said the dairy farmers have talked about donating milk for a while. Farmers weathered the recession better than some others, and he said they wanted to do something to help the communities that support them.
"We believe that dairy calories and dairy protein are just a high-quality source of nutrition, especially for young families," Wavrin said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org