Social media helps farmers fill local food pantry

10 gallon challenge: Joanna (Wavrunek) Guza, Trudy DeGrand with mother Sara (Wavrunek) DeGrand, and Josy Wavrunek had a big load in the family minivan on Tuesday morning. Wavrunek Dairy donated 30 gallons of whole milk to the Denmark/Maribel Community Cupboard.

DENMARK — Dairy farmers typically want to steer clear of anything viral, but there are exceptions to every rule, the month-old #10GallonChallenge social media campaign being a prime example.

The challenge calls for individuals to purchase ten gallons of milk for donation to their local food pantry. Photos of emptied store coolers and jug-packed shopping carts accompany the tens-of-thousands of posts carrying the hashtag.

And the virus is close to home.

On Tuesday, Denmark’s Wavrunek Dairy pitched in by donating 30 gallons of the white stuff to the Denmark/Maribel Community Cupboard.

The initiative began at the start of the month with a video posted by Ty Higgins, an Ohio-based agricultural radio broadcaster, which as of Tuesday was viewed 178k times.

“I sometimes feel helpless as I report on all of the challenges our farmers across the country are facing these days,” Higgins’ original post reads. “Among those struggling the most are dairy farmers. Because of major issues beyond their control, most dairies will find it impossible to make a profit this year.”

The corresponding hashtag, #10GallonChallenge, had reached 125k people—mostly in the Midwest dairy states—in the previous ten days.

The measure has been widely applauded by the dairy community which has been squeezed since milk prices crashed at the end of 2014 and have subsequently failed to recover thanks, in part, to declining demand and increasing supply.

“We hear all the time that there is too much milk out there and that nobody is drinking it,” said Nicki Vandeurzen, a De Pere dairywoman whose farm milks about 50 cows.

One may think the flooded market would indeed suggest that demand for cow’s milk has been dampened, but food pantries across America frequently rank dairy products as those most in need. Nationally, families who use food banks receive less than one gallon per-person in any given year, according to hunger-focused non-profit Feeding America.

The reasons for that discrepancy are fairly straightforward when considering the incredibly limited shelf-life and storage requirements for milk, yogurt, and the like—charity organizations running on grant funds and donations cannot necessarily accommodate those kinds of contingencies.

“Any way that we can help push milk to the people who most require it is something we’ll do,” said Joanna (Wavrunek) Guza of the donation. “It’s sad to see that so many kids aren’t getting milk,” or the array of nutrients it contains, she continued.

Science is on Guza’s side: the formation of neural networks is reliant on dietary fats, in which whole milk is especially rich. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin D are also important childhood nutrients which milk readily supplies.

Just as a dedicated milk diet can strengthen one’s bones, a spirit of giving and selflessness helps build the bones of a self-supporting community.

“We rely entirely on donations,” said Pastor Andrew Zoerb, a key organizer of the Community Cupboard which currently serves about 100 families between the two towns once every month.

The Wavruneks’ thirty-gallon dump came on Tuesday morning just a few hours before the monthly Cupboard opened at 1:30 p.m., a timeframe which fit well with the limited resources of Veteran Memorial Park’s clubhouse where the Denmark Cupboard is held.

“There is always a need for fresher; things like fruits, vegetables, and obviously dairy” Zoerb said, “Now that it’s harvest season we’ve been able to have more fresh produce, but something like [the donation of milk] is incredible.”

Previously the Cupboard worked through federal assistance programs to secure foodstuffs for the shelves. Zoerb said the organization has since pivoted to a donation-based model to increase food offerings, volunteering opportunities, and avenues to teach self-sufficiency to adults and children alike.

“We wanted to pursue relationships in the community,” Zoerb said, “because there are third- and fourth-generation kids coming through here, learning that this is just how they get food.”

A program akin to the popular food delivery service Blue Apron has been hypothesized as a way to invigorate ration control, ingredient stretching, and self-responsibility.

“There’s a difference between cooking your own meal and heating up a can of soup,” Zoerb said, adding that for those kinds of progressive ideas to come into play the Cupboard will require donations of basic ingredients like rice, sugar, or flour—as well as more volunteers.

A host of new ideas for the Cupboard are on the burners, Zoerb said, but are not quite ready to taste. There is, however, one new extension of the organization which will be reaching maturity in just a couple of weeks.

Cutting Hunger On Weekends (CHOW) is a new program aimed at food insecure students in Denmark schools. Ostensibly a committee of the Cupboard for the time being, CHOW has had to fundraise through the summer in preparation for the upcoming school year.

Ashley Claussen is spearheading the initiative and said there have already been some changes to the concept of the plan—and more are sure to breach the surface. The group originally planned to enlist 100 students for the first half of the school year in the program which provides three meals and two snacks for each day of the weekend in a drawstring bag.

In its first iteration this semester, CHOW will be engaging with 35 different students which school social worker Lindsey Reckelberg identifies as in need and are willing to take part in the anonymous program.

“It will be a good time to work out the kinks,” Claussen said, adding the next goal is to reach 100 students in the next CHOW run.

But reaching that will require some more people involved in ways not necessarily always in mind, Claussen said.

“I’ve found it can be hard to get monetary donations; we’re a small community with a lot of groups and organizations, and I think there’s times where everyone just feels tapped out with donating money,” Claussen said, adding that direct donations of food items or resources (like drawstring backpack bags) helps far more materially.

Over the summer, CHOW has used just that tactic by collecting lightly worn and new shoes at area businesses and at the annual Denmark spring rummage sale. The collections came to an end last Saturday, Aug. 18, when representatives from Soles 4 Souls arrived to the Claussen farm and picked up the 4,000 pairs of shoes (almost two for every person living in Denmark) collected over roughly three months.

“It took us about 45 minutes to an hour to load them up,” Claussen said of the six-person work crew which hoisted the 160 plastic bags bursting with shoes.

Soles 4 Souls, which distributes collected shoes to economically challenged areas to invigorate small business creation, is still in the process of tallying the exact monetary contribution which CHOW earned, but Claussen is sure there will be some budgetary head scratching in the first year of the program.

“Eventually we hope to have a voucher where families can get a half-gallon of milk and a loaf of bread,” she said of ideas to improve the program as it ages, “but we’ll have to see where the numbers are moving forward and what we’ll be able to do with it.”

From the view of (Wavrunek) Guza, the Cupboard’s revised foundation offers it plenty of chances for success.

“I think it’s important that a church is involved with it now,” she said, referring to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Denmark, where Zoerb is the Pastor and where the milk donation was delivered. “With a whole parish behind something like that, hopefully it will help spark more interest and volunteering,” she said.

Zoerb said that donations may be best directed to the area’s churches, especially those of perishable, time-sensitive items like liquid milk.

“Every one of the churches have a good network of people, and they know how to funnel things where they should go,” Zoerb said.

The Cupboard is open in Denmark every third Tuesday of the month from 1:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. For information on how to volunteer, donate, or enroll as a recipient should the help be needed, contact Our Savior’s at 863-2230.

Also, consider this article to be “tapping” you as the next contributor to the #10GallonChallenge.