I confess, milk is something I take for granted. It takes little effort to reach into the refrigerator and pull out milk, or to run to the store and pick up a fresh gallon. I never considered milk a luxury, until I spoke with the York family from Western Pennsylvania.

Meet the York Family

Margaret York is the family matriarch. Retired, her job is helping to run a nine-person household. She lives in a three-bedroom house with her daughter, LaTonya York, a 43-year-old, full-time working mom. In addition, Margaret helps look after LaTonya’s one child and niece. The seven children are between the ages of four and 11. Three boys and four girls. A handful!

A Day with 7 Children

Breakfast is a flurry of activity in the York household. “Bacon, eggs, grits, cereal, milk and juice – they all have different things that they want to eat in the morning,” tells LaTonya York. After fueling up, most of the children head to school or camp for the day. Margaret and LaTonya get to work stretching the budget to make sure the hungry children have food to come home to. They’re careful about what they buy, trying to get the most nutritious bang for their buck.

Just as the kids are coming home, LaTonya heads out to work the night shift at a nursing home. Margaret makes sure the children get a protein-filled snack, like cottage cheese or yogurt, so they can focus on their homework or other activities. Another frenzy of activity hits the home around dinner time. Just as things in the kitchen start to settle down, it’s time for a snack before bedtime. “I’ve got one child who always wants a glass of milk before she goes to bed,” said Margaret. Making sure that there’s enough milk and food available is a never-ending struggle financially.

Milk Factor

Margaret and LaTonya try their best to make sure their seven children have milk available to them as much as possible. Their grocery budget is frequently put to the test. “Milk doesn’t last here at all,” said LaTonya. It’s a financial burden to keep the milk and food stocked in the house. The family, at minimum, drinks two gallons of milk per day. Per day!

They know how important milk is for children. “It builds their bones, there’s a lot of vitamins in milk and I know it’s good for them,” said Margaret. Milk is an excellent source of eight necessary nutrients, including protein, that helps child growth and development. Among them, calcium, potassium and vitamin D, nutrients which many kids don’t always get enough of.

More Milk, Please!

The financial strain on the grocery budget takes an extra hit in the summer, says LaTonya York. While in school, the kids have access to free school meals and milk. “When school is out and they’re home, they eat and drink more of everything, so we have to replenish everything. We have to go and keep stocking up.” “That’s hard!” says Margaret.

At least every two to three days, Margaret and LaTonya find themselves spending extra on more milk for the family. And that just the milk! Margaret shells out about $200 a week on groceries to feed the family of nine, and even then, they run out. “That’s a hard task keeping food and milk in the house, and that’s why we thank God for our Salvation Army.” The six half gallons of milk they receive at the food pantry, in addition to the food, helps the family stretch their budget.

via The Salvation Army of Arkansas & Oklahoma

Salvation Army Food Pantry to the Rescue

No matter how many coupons Margaret York clips, and how careful she and LaTonya are with their grocery budget, eventually the money runs out. Once a month, LaTonya and Margaret head up the street to the Salvation Army food pantry. The pantry provides them with supplemental food assistance to help them get by. They’ve been using that pantry for more than a decade. When they go now, “There’s fresh milk, cereal, canned goods, there’s meat, there’s fruit – fresh and canned, you name it. Everything is there – and that milk is something else,” says Margaret.

It hasn’t always been that way. Even though it was (and continues to be) one of the most requested food pantry items, milk was seldom available at the pantry. It is perishable, and often difficult to collect, store and distribute because of refrigeration needs and shorter shelf lives.

 Fill a Glass with Hope®

Without milk from the food pantry, Margaret says they’d be on their last gallon in no time.

“How do I say ‘no, we don’t have any milk and I don’t have the money to get it’ and they’re looking at me saying, ‘but Grandma!’”

In that regard, Margaret says the food pantry is more than a money saver. She remembers the day last year she first learned the Salvation Army food pantry had begun offering milk to its clients. “I got tears in my eyes, to tell you the truth. I was like, ‘Oh, thank you Jesus!’ We were very delighted. And when we came home, the kids were like ‘Oh, more milk?!’ And they got their glasses and asked for a drink of milk.”

Milk at the Salvation Army food pantry is made available through the Fill a Glass with Hope® program. In 2016, the Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County launched the Fill a Glass with Hope® pilot program, focused on providing fresh milk to families in need. The charitable fresh milk program is a collaborative partnership with organizations including Feeding Pennsylvania, American Dairy Association North East, Pennsylvania Dairy Promotion Program, Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, and Dean Dairy in Sharpsville.

Milk Drive Donations Making a Difference

Through Fill a Glass with Hope®, the Salvation Army in Sharon passed out nearly 450 half gallons of milk per month. Two hundred and fifty families, just like the York’s, receive fresh milk each month – in addition to other fresh food options. “We know that we’re making a difference. There are challenges out there but, we know that because we give that milk, families like the York’s have more to smile about that day. And when they serve that milk to their children or grandchildren, it’s making an impact on their lives, and we’re grateful for that,” said Major Michael Jung, M.B.A, Commanding Officer/Pastor of The Salvation Army in Sharon Pennsylvania.

Your Donation Matters

Milk is one of the most requested items at food banks, yet it is rarely donated. Every dollar donated to Fill a Glass with Hope® goes directly to programs that provide milk to families in need across our region.

“Sometimes you get short of money and you don’t have milk and the kids are looking at you, like ‘what happened’, and that hurts,” says Margaret. The York’s are extremely grateful to people who donate to Fill a Glass with Hope® and support the Salvation Army food pantry.

“I think someone must have been in my spot at one time,” said Margaret. “I feel one day, maybe I’ll be able to donate and return the favor.”

“It’s a good feeling knowing someone else cares,” said LaTonya York.

The next time you reach into your refrigerator for milk, or run to the store to pick up another gallon, consider yourself lucky. I know I will.

Learn more about Fill a Glass with Hope® and donate by visiting www.feedingpa.org.