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Joel Riehlman, left, of Venture Farms in Fabius, N.Y., helped hand out 8,000 gallons of milk in June.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York hard, dairy farmers stepped up to support their neighbors across the state. Since April, American Dairy Association North East has helped distribute more than 300,000 gallons of fresh, local milk to families in need throughout New York. With the support of partners like Dairy Farmers of America and Upstate Niagara Cooperative, ADA North East has already facilitated nearly 60 events, both public donations and distributions to food banks, where milk was donated.

On April 22, cars could be seen lined up for miles at the parking lot of Destiny USA Mall in Syracuse. Some had arrived as much as two hours ahead of the event to wait their turn for a couple of free gallons of milk.

Local dairy farmers have volunteered at many of the milk donation events to ensure the families’ access to milk and to support their local communities.

In June, dairy farmer Joel Riehlman of Venture Farms in Fabius spent a Wednesday afternoon making sure another 8,000 gallons of milk were distributed to families in need.

“As a dairy farmer, my passion is feeding families. Being here is great opportunity to connect with families and individuals that truly enjoy a balanced diet that we as farmers can provide,” Riehlman said. “It’s nice to take a break from the dairy farm and help the many people in need in our community.”

The following day, dairy farmer Peggy Murray and her husband Lynn, of Murcrest Farm in Copenhagen, were 70 miles north in Watertown volunteering at another milk drive with fellow dairy farmer Lisa Porter, of Porterdale Farms in Adams Center.

“It was overwhelming and humbling to see the nearly 2,000 cars passing through, knowing there are so many families in need and who have to go without food,” said Peggy Murray. She says she is glad to be part of the solution in getting a grocery staple like milk into the local community. “It was heartwarming to see their gratitude — especially for the whole milk — and to know that people really want the products that we produce on the farm.”

In July, dairy farmer Eric Zuber of Zuber Farms in Byron was in disbelief at the number of people who showed up for a milk giveaway in Rochester’s Irondequoit area, where Zuber volunteered to hand out either four half gallons or two gallons of milk per vehicle.

“They were lined up more than an hour before we started,” said Zuber. Some 1,200 cars waited for their share of the available 4,000 gallons of milk handed out by Zuber, Ontario County dairy princesses, and others. “It’s great to see everybody working together — volunteers, dairy princesses. Feeding people is pretty noble and it makes me feel good to give back to my community,” Zuber said.

As long as the need for milk continues, so will the free milk distributions. The milk, made available in New York through Nourish NY and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program , is purchased from Dairy Farmers of America and Upstate Niagara Cooperative. More milk giveaways are planned for August. The American Dairy Association North East Facebook page will list event details as they become available.

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