With a $50,000 grant from Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, and additional funding from The Musser Family Fund, Sacharuna Foundation and Culpeper Wellness Foundation, the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) rolls out its summer milk and egg donation program this month, beginning the week of July 12. Over the next three months, PEC will purchase 6,000 gallons of liquid milk from the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association (MDVA Milk), supporting the cooperative’s 18 member dairy farms within PEC’s nine-county region, and about 3,000 dozen eggs from Warrenton’s Whiffletree Farm, all to be donated to food pantries in Clarke, Loudoun, Fauquier, Culpeper, Rappahannock, Orange, Madison, Greene and Albemarle counties and the city of Charlottesville.
“We are so grateful to the generous funders who are helping PEC meet two very critical needs within our community exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic — addressing food insecurity issues worsened by school closures and sudden job losses, and supporting dairy farmers struggling to sell their products amid pandemic related shutdowns,” said PEC President Chris Miller. “Over recent years, one Virginia dairy farm went out of business every single week, while at the same time almost 10 percent of adults and 20 percent of children in Virginia struggle with hunger. Nationwide, six out seven children eat less during the summer months because they’re no longer getting school lunches,” he said.
Milk will be donated weekly to Christ Church Cares food pantry in Clarke County, Loudoun’s Dulles South and Seven Loaves food pantries, Rappahannock Food Pantry, Fauquier FISH food pantry, and 42 food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens in Albemarle, Culpeper, Green, Madison, and Orange counties by way of Charlottesville’s Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Thomas Jefferson Branch. Eggs will go to Christ Church Cares, Dulles South, Seven Loaves, Rappahannock Food Pantry and Fauquier FISH.
“Through the efforts and generosity of The Piedmont Environmental Council, the pantries, soup kitchens and shelters we serve throughout Central Virginia are grateful to be able to provide such an essentially nutritious and wholesome food to the children, seniors and families in our community,” said Joe Caputi, Thomas Jefferson Area branch manager at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
This summer’s effort builds upon PEC’s Farm to Food Bank initiative launched at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020, when the organization learned that pandemic-related shutdowns were threatening both the livelihood of local dairy farmers and the health of families that rely on school meal programs and food pantries for their nutritional needs. At that time, with funding from the PATH Foundation, Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, the Musser Family Fund, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s The Power of Change program, and private donors, PEC partnered with MDVA Milk to purchase and donate more than 30,000 gallons of milk, supporting roughly 20,000 families at more than 20 area food banks and helping sustain local dairy farmers affected by the pandemic.
“COVID-19 showed us that local food supply chains are more resilient to new challenges,” said Lindsay Reames of the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association. “We’re thrilled to continue our relationship with Piedmont Environmental Council as they support local dairy farmers through the purchase of Maola Milk products. This effort gives people in need access to the leading local and sustainable choice for milk in the Piedmont region.”
In response to increased demand at local food pantries, PEC is adding pasture-raised eggs to its donations, as an important source of protein and a foundational ingredient that families can use to make many other healthy, fresh meals. "In the topsy-turvies of 2020, Whiffletree Farm is long on some of our inventory, and PEC's program is a great help in moving our product. I'm grateful for the business, and I'm also very happy to know that people who are in need will enjoy top-quality food that is tasty and nutritious. PEC's effort to support our local farmers and farms like Whiffletree, while also giving to those in need in our community is admirable and inspiring," said Whiffletree Farm owner Jesse Straight.
Miller said PEC hopes its summer effort will fill a gap in nourishment for children and families and help carry them and local dairy farms through to the reopening of schools in the fall and the full implementation of the Virginia Agriculture Food Assistance Program enacted in March. Championed strongly by PEC during the 2021 legislative session, the Virginia Agricultural Food Assistance Program will reimburse local farms for costs associated with providing food products to charitable food pantries across the commonwealth.
“No child should have to struggle with an empty stomach or stress about when they will eat again. These grants will help reach more kids and families with the food they need to grow up healthy, educated and strong,” said Sarah Steely, No Kid Hungry Virginia Associate Director. “Making sure kids are nourished during the summer months has a strong return on investment. We applaud Piedmont Environmental Council for working tirelessly to keep children nourished and support families during COVID relief and recovery.” No Kid Hungry is a campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization working to end hunger and poverty by supporting programs that give children access to the healthy food they need to survive.
Protecting and strengthening the agricultural economy across its nine-county service area is part of PEC’s core mission, and for the past 15 years, the organization has been engaged in strengthening local food systems by highlighting local producers in Buy Fresh Buy Local, exploring investment in distribution and manufacturing infrastructure, and supporting community farms to provide support for local food security efforts, including building the PEC Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows.
“Effects of the pandemic have amplified the importance of this work and has spurred PEC to lean into our strong community partnerships to accelerate and amplify our work,” Miller said.
Food bank operators or farmers who are interested in participating in PEC’s Farm to Food Bank initiative should reach out to PEC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships John McCarthy at email@example.com.