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UDIM Navigating 2020’s Challenges with Continued Focus on Community

Gleaners staff unloads milk purchased from a milk drive fundraiser.

You might be remiss finding an industry or business who hasn’t faced headwinds in 2020. However, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan has taken those challenges and have turned them into a lot of successes.

Jolene Griffin, director of industry relations, says UDIM helped build stronger relationships with its community.

“When the schools went virtual the first time in March, we were starting to get phone calls from schools saying, ‘We still have to feed our kids. We have to make sure they have food to eat. How can UDIM help and how can you help us keep that milk, cheese and yogurt cold?’” she said.

Jolene Griffin and Amiee Vondrasek of UDIM answer questions from virtual tourists.

That first weekend, UDIM was taking insulated bags to schools across the state to make sure they could deliver those dairy products to students. Then in April, they held a virtual tour through Facebook.

“Then it went from there,” said Griffin. “What were some of the other ways we could connect with them? Trying to look at the projects and programs we were already doing to connect with consumers and how we can make them into a project for 2020 [and] continue to get the nutrition to our students and people across the state.”

According to UDIM, one in six people and one in five children in Michigan experience food insecurity. The pandemic has exposed that. Griffin explains that UDIM has been a bridge to get dairy from the producers to those in need

Michigan dairy farmers delivered refrigerated cooler units, along with a full supply of milk, to 36 local Michigan food pantries. The program aims to increase the availability of fresh, delicious dairy foods for food pantry customers.

“We’ve been working with the food banking system in Michigan for more than six years now,” she said. “Because we had that set up beforehand, we knew the food bank and food pantries needs. We were able to work with them to help with the distribution—making sure they had connections to the processors to get milk, cheese, and yogurt and equipping them with the equipment to keep that cool.”

Griffin and UDIM are hoping to build on this momentum in 2021 by adding more virtual farm tours for students starting January 11 for National Milk Day.