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Local 4-H youths help to get excess milk to food banks, pantries, schools

Franklin — Images of trucks dumping milk and dairy farmers struggling to stay in business hit home for dozens of aspiring future farmers throughout eastern Connecticut.

So, when the Litchfield County 4H club launched an effort two weeks ago to fetch excess milk from dairy processing plants and distribute it to local food banks, hands were raised quickly in local virtual meetings to join the effort.

“This is a great idea,” said Grace Balogh, 15, of Ashford, president of the Lebanon 4H Dairy and Beef Club and an agriculture student at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs. “We want to help as much as we can to help the dairy industry.”

About two dozen families with youth members in the Lebanon Dairy and Beef Club and the North Stonington Butter and Beef Club waited Monday afternoon at the New London County 4H Camp in Franklin for the rented refrigerator truck to arrive from the Guida Dairy processing plant in New Britain. As they waited, 4H adult volunteer Harlan Hyde and Lebanon Dairy and Beef Club leader Arnie Nieminen handed out assignments for the families.

The truck carried seven pallets with 80 cases, each holding six half gallons of milk, a total of 480 half gallons to be transported by 4-H members' cars to 25 food distribution sites throughout New London and Windham counties. Recipients included large food banks, public schools, town and church food pantries, and human services agencies. 

The Perkins family of North Stonington, representing two farms — Four Daughters Farm and Red Head Farm — were assigned to bring 20 cases of milk to the Westbrook Food Pantry.

Tristan Guest, 14, treasurer of the Lebanon Dairy and Beef Club, and his mother, Jennifer Della Rocco of Lebanon, were taking 15 cases of milk to Norwich Public Schools.

“I think it’s a good idea to help the dairy industry,” said Tristan, an agriculture student at Lyman High School in Lebanon.

Balogh and her parents, Jennifer and John Balogh were bringing their loads to the Willimantic Soup Kitchen and the Ashford food pantry.

The New London County 4-H and the University of Connecticut Extension System distribution was repeated in Litchfield and Tolland counties Monday. Last Wednesday, New London County 4-H volunteers also distributed 7 pounds of plain yogurt and sour cream donated by Cabot Creamery to the Gemma Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in New London.

Hyde said the program used federal money to purchase the milk from Guida at a low price, and Guida donated the labor and processing. The UConn Extension system with 4-H rented the refrigerator truck and brought the milk to the volunteers for distribution.

The 4-H youths hope this won't be a one-time event. New London County 4-H is seeking sponsor businesses who either own or could pay for renting refrigerator trucks for future distribution runs. Any business interested in participating is asked to call Pam Gray or Heidi Herz at the New London County office of the UConn Extension System at (860) 887-1608.

c.bessette@theday.com

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