“Milk … Rarely Donated. Always Needed.” That’s the slogan of the Adopt-A-Cow program through Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin.
Throughout the pandemic, two local women, Sydney Endres and Mariah Martin, have been doing all they can to make sure milk — and cheese – is getting donated to local food banks so the families who are struggling can get the much-needed nutrients.
The two have been selling shirts that promote local farmers, with proceeds going toward donating the milk and cheese to those who need it. So far, the two have donated about $22,000 worth of items — either for Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin’s Adopt-A-Cow program or to Feeding America’s Great American Milk Drive.
“The Adopt-A-Cow program purchases milk and gets it to the people that need it most,” Endres said.
Endres and Martin are also helping the local dairy farmers, people near and dear to their hearts. Endres was born and raised in Lodi, and lives on her family’s farm — Jazzy Jerseys. She currently does work outside the farm helping the agricultural industry. Martin’s family also owns farms in the area, and she noted she would always spend time on her uncle’s and grandfather’s farm. Martin was also involved in 4-H and other agricultural programs growing up. The pair met while attending the University of Wisconsin.
“Mariah and I met in college through different organizations that we were volunteering. When the pandemic hit, a lot of those post college things weren’t happening,” Endres said.
When the pandemic began in March 2020, the two saw what the consequences were, especially to farms across the state and country.
“When the pandemic hit, dairy farming took a big hit as there was no home for all the milk,” said Endres, a 2013 graduate of Lodi High School and 2017 UW. grad.
As food banks became in high demand, so did milk, with families seeking out the core part of a daily diet. With many people losing their jobs, food banks saw an increased need for the dairy item that is rarely donated because of its shelf life that only lasts a week or two.
“Milk is the most requested item (at food banks),” said Martin, a 2014 Oregon High School graduate and 2018 UW grad. “So (milk) became a powerhouse. It was an easy way to give families those nutrients at an affordable cost.”
Martin also said that the short shelf life of milk, and not knowing exactly how much as needed, was the reason the two didn’t just buy milk themselves to donate.
That’s when Endres and Martin — who has a marketing background — got creative.
“A mutual friend of ours created T-shirts with proceeds going to a food bank,” Martin said. “In March and April (of last year), we were sitting at home, bored, and thought we could design shirts, too. What a fun idea.”
The duo would create T-shirts to not only benefit the struggling families who needed dairy products, but also the dairy farmers by allowing them to continue to produce milk at its normal rates. Endres said that as the demands for milk by local food banks increased, the more local dairy farmers would be needed to meet them.
Over the last year, the duo has raised more than $20,000 to help support the Adopt-A-Cow program and the Great American Milk Drive through the sales of those T-shirts. Endres said that within the first six months of selling online, there were 1,200 shirts sold.
One shirt has a picture of a farm inside a circle with “Support local farmers” written on it. The other has a picture of a cheese wedge with the words, “Stay Cheesy” printed on it. Both shirts come in various colors and sizes.
Currently, Endres and Martin are in their third run of T-shirt sales, specifically for June Dairy Month — with long-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies also available. Martin said the extended sale is because expectations keep getting exceeded. On this third run, the “Stay Cheesy” shirt was added to specifically help get cheese donated to the food banks.
All online sales of shirts will be available until June 30 by going to bit.ly/SupportLocalFarmers21. Everything is printed by a DeForest company, where pick ups can also be made.
So far, Endres and Martin have been able to donate $19,000 toward the Adopt-A-Cow program, which is and easy way to give dairy products to families in need. Those who wish to participate can choose a cow to “adopt” and decide how many gallons to provide, with all donations going to Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. Since the program began, more than 180,000 gallons of milk has been donated.
Additionally, Endres and Martin have donated nearly $3,000 to the Great American Milk Drive. That program works on a national scale, and since it began in 2014, nearly 35 million servings of milk has been donated by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization.
“Those two organizations had the programs that allow you to donate money to purchase milk,” Endres said of picking where to donate.
Endres and Martin never expected a simple idea to blossom into what it became over the last year. They were using their talents and passion for the greater good.
“It turned into way more than we expected,” Martin said. “It went crazy, and kept going. … The support was outstanding. Not only did we sell shirts in Wisconsin, but it reached up to Alaska. We were giving back across the nation, but also giving in our backyard as well.”
Endres was also amazed by the loads of support that the project received.
Also, with June being Dairy Month, Endres wanted people to know that Second Harvest and the Adopt-A-Cow program are always open to donations. Plus, Columbia County’s 43rd annual Moo-Day Brunch will be at Schoepp Farms in Lodi on Saturday, June 19 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
For more information, or to donate to Second Harvest or the Adopt-A-Cow program, go to www.secondharvestmadison.org.
To help Feeding America in the Great American Milk Drive, visit www.feedingamericawi.org.