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Food Banks Are Overflowing With Milk


Got milk? Food banks in the United States are overflowing with it, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The cause of the oversupply is the U.S.'s trade disputes. The federal government has been buying up surplus milk to help out dairy farmers hurt by the trade wars, which has led to the glut at food banks. Glynis Board of the Ohio Valley ReSource team tells us more.

GLYNIS BOARD, BYLINE: At Facing Hunger Food Bank, Executive Director Cyndi Kirkhart steps into her agency's walk-in refrigerator in Huntington, W.Va.

CYNDI KIRKHART: This is the only cooler we have. So this is Kentucky milk, and this is West Virginia.

BOARD: There's not very much space.


BOARD: There's so much milk, they've often had to store it inside their refrigerated trucks and keep them running all night. Every couple of weeks since November, Kirkhart's operation has gotten about 8,000 half-gallon cartons of milk.

KIRKHART: We never have received what we refer to as fluid milk, which is fresh milk.

BOARD: Donations from the federal government are normal, but products usually have a long shelf life - months or years. Milk lasts maybe two weeks.

The dairy industry is already producing plenty of surplus milk, and recent trade disputes with the Trump administration made the situation worse. Jim Goodman is a former dairy farmer who now heads up the National Farm Coalition (ph).

JIM GOODMAN: Twenty-five percent of our dairy exports probably go to China. And probably another 25 percent of them goes to Mexico. Both of those countries put a tariff on in response to the steel and aluminum tariffs.

BOARD: The Trump administration released $12 billion last year to bail out farmers. Ten percent of that was put toward purchasing commodities, like milk, to be distributed for hunger relief.

JOSHUA LOHNES: Whose responsibility is it to get rid of this milk?

BOARD: Joshua Lohnes is a researcher at West Virginia University. He explains the donated perishable food doesn't come with money to offset extra administrative costs associated with storage and distribution.

LOHNES: It costs the food banks $2 a mile to deliver this, quote, unquote, "free food" across this vast, rural landscape. So they are advocating, you know, with our state legislators and the powers that be at the Department of Ag to try to figure out how to not have all of this surplus pretty much tank their operation.

BOARD: In Huntington, Kirkhart says food banks like hers do get some federal financial support for administrative costs, but it doesn't match the increases in overhead created by perishable donations.

Still, she feels she has to accept them, despite logistical difficulties, because the need in her region is so great. Two hundred and eighty-five thousand people throughout West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio are food insecure.

KIRKHART: We're going to keep on keeping on. And I know that we have a lot of love in this community around our service area, and people will help us through because that's what Appalachians do.

BOARD: Even if accepting these donations threatens her food bank's continued existence. For NPR News, I'm Glynis Board in Huntington, W.Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Glynis Board