It’s difficult to get fresh milk to families in need, but Bill Weigel found a way. On Thursday, Weigel assembled his company executives and invited guests to announce a donation of 60,000 gallons of milk to Second Harvest.
Sixty thousand gallons is equivalent to one-half million pounds of milk or close to 10 tanker loads, said Charlie Hatcher, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “I can’t tell you what a big deal this is. We’re talking Tennessee milk from Tennessee cows to Tennessee families. How impactful.”
Hatcher praised Weigel’s “innovative way to get excess milk into the hands of those who need it.”
Elaine Streno, executive director of Second Harvest of East Tennessee, joked that her warehouse crew was concerned when she told them of the gift. “Who will unload it? Where will we keep it?”
Not a problem. Weigel’s will give 5,000 coupons – each good for one gallon of milk – each week to two food banks – Second Harvest of East Tennessee, which serves Knox and surrounding counties, and Second Harvest of Northeast Tennessee, headed by Rhonda Chafin and serving counties of Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi.
Second Harvest will distribute the coupons through the food bank network already in place. “We’ll ask them to focus on families with children,” said Streno. “Milk is a rare commodity for us yet it’s a much-requested item.”
Both Streno and Chafin said demand for food has increased 50 percent since the pandemic shutdown in March.
The coupons eliminate the need for hauling, lifting, unloading and refrigeration of the milk. The consumers just go to their neighborhood Weigel’s store and get the milk when it’s needed. “What a sensitive and genius idea,” Streno said. “We’re so excited about this in the 18 counties that we serve.”
This is the second visit by Commissioner Hatcher to the Weigel’s corporate offices in Powell. He came in April 2019 to celebrate Weigel’s decision to sell only Tennessee milk. Hatcher said the program has caught on statewide. Info here.
In a statement on June 15, Jon Bebermeyer of the Dairy Farmers of America, Southeast Area, said the impacts of COVID-19 have resulted in dynamic shifts in the dairy industry “with farmers dumping milk, schools and restaurants shuttering and store shelves falling empty, all creating unexpected supply chain interruptions and added costs, while during this same time dairy farmers have seen a dramatic decrease in market prices.”
Bill Weigel called the current crisis “global yet local,” adding, “We feel compelled to help our neighbors. We’re in the food business. Many of our neighbors have lost their jobs and are struggling to put food on their tables, so it seemed natural we could contribute in this way.”
Weigel’s operates 68 convenience stores, a dairy and a bakery, all within a 100-mile radius of their corporate headquarters on Emory Road in Powell.
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee has grown dramatically and now provides 1.1 million meals per month in an 18-county region.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of KnoxTNToday.com.