Finding the Silver Lining During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Joanna Shipp, Boones Mill, Virginia

2020 was a difficult and challenging year for most of us. The pandemic played havoc with the wellbeing of individuals, economic health, public education, and a myriad of other things. As dairy farmers, we have been on a roller coaster with the price of milk which has created so much uncertainty in our lives and livelihoods. Our family has not been immune to these changes, but they have led to some amazing opportunities to see the value in what farmers do on a regular basis.  

This all starts with our daughter, Jenna. As the school year began we found ourselves with three days a week to fill due to the hybrid educational system put in place by our local school system. Jenna was looking forward to her last year in elementary school before facing the new challenges of middle school, but 2020 didn’t allow for normal. In trying to fill this new found extra time, Jenna has spent a lot of time with her Oma, Sarah Ann Bowman. One expanded learning opportunity Oma came up with was for Jenna to volunteer at a local food pantry, Heavenly Manna.

Heavenly Manna is a food pantry in the Franklin County, Virginia area that serves approximately 500 families a month with a box of food. Each week Jenna and her Oma show up to help sort food from bulk packaging into family sized boxes for distribution. From week to week, Jenna has no clue what tasks she will face during her time at the facility. One day she will break 50 pound packages of cake icing into more useful 5 pound bags. Another she will be quality control of locally donated fresh food while redistributing those items into family boxes. Through our time volunteering, we learned that this quote from is true: “On average, people served by food banks receive the equivalent of less than one gallon of milk per person.”

As dairy farmers we feel that fresh milk for people who need it most is very important. We decided to do something about the food pantry’s lack of consistent fresh milk for the people in need in our community. Our local church donated money to start a milk fund. With this initial donation, Heavenly Manna was able to set up a weekly milk delivery of fresh Maola milk. While this was a great first step, it also led to more steps. As Jenna spent more time at the food bank, it became obvious that Heavenly Manna was in need of more cooler space to accommodate the gallons of milk they were distributing each week. In comes The Dairy Alliance. With extra yearly funds, The Dairy Alliance was able to provide a glass front cooler to store our fresh Maola milk.

While this is a solid beginning to the project there is still more to be done. There is a milk fund and now a cooler to handle the fresh milk. However we estimate that we will need $13,000 a year to continuously provide fresh milk to the food bank families. The groundwork has been created and it will take a community coming together to provide milk for people. Jenna’s Opa, Laird Bowman, has spent a lot of time talking to local agriculture businesses about donating to the milk fund with some success. During Maryland & Virginia District meetings this past fall, we found out about the MDVA Fund. The fund can be another source for our project. Oma has also turned the pandemic into a source of funds by sewing and selling custom made face coverings. Not only has she donated hundreds of masks to local schools, but has also donated over $700 she has raised from her masks to the milk fund at Heavenly Manna.  

The story is not over for serving people in need, but without a global pandemic to shake up our normal lives we would have missed this opportunity to give back to our community.  It’s easy to think back on 2020 as a terrible year and see past good things that were presented. Our one family found a way to see the good that could be done by making a product we believe in more accessible to those who could use it most. And after 2020 who couldn’t use a nice cold glass of Maola Milk!