Pandemic-surplus: Dairy cooperative donates 25,000 pounds of cheese to Catholic Charities

| April 17, 2020 | 0 Comments

A worker wearing a face mask to guard against the coronavirus at Catholic Charities’ distribution center in St. Paul pulls a dolly full of donated cheese from a refrigerator truck April 16. The cheese was donated by a Wisconsin dairy cooperative in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. COURTESY DAVID MEYER | CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF ST. PAUL AND MINNEAPOLIS

Enough cheese to make more than 320,000 sandwiches was delivered April 16 to Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis as one Wisconsin dairy cooperative’s way to help in the midst of a pandemic crisis.

Burnett Dairy Cooperative, based in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, donated 25,000 pounds of cheese to the nonprofit agency that shelters the homeless and feeds the poor. The cooperative also is donating to food shelves, and schools in Wisconsin that are closed but meeting the needs of families hit hard by business and school closings. It plans to donate more than 75,000 pounds of cheese before the end of next week, said Dan Dowling, the cooperative’s president and CEO.

Dowling said the agriculture industry, like so many businesses, has been struggling because of the COVID-19 slowdown. But cows keep producing milk, he said, and milk can be turned into cheese. The cooperative founded in 1896 that makes its money serving restaurants, schools, delicatessens, food-service and private-label customers turned its production capacity to the needy in an extraordinary time of need, he said.

“We were disposing of agriculture commodities and thought, ‘Isn’t there something better we can do?'” Dowling said.

At least for now, with help from federal emergency loans, the cooperative can continue to pay its employees and farmers and keep them busy helping others, Dowling said. How long that can be sustained isn’t immediately known, he said.

“This is uncharted territory for us,” he said. “We’ve never done anything of this magnitude.”

Laurie Ohmann, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Catholic Charities, was among those greeting the refrigerated truck (which was donated for the trip by Chell Trucking of Siren, Wisconsin) at the nonprofit’s distribution center in St. Paul. She was grateful for the help to the needy.

“This was such a wonderful gesture of humanity,” Ohmann said. “It was fun to visit with the farmers, and it was fun to watch this roll into our facility.”

Two of the dairy cooperative’s board members and members of their families drove to Catholic Charities, as did Dowling, to share in the moment. Both board members are longtime farmers with the cooperative.

Ohmann said Catholic Charities serves more than 1 million meals a year to the homeless and residents of its low-cost, long-term housing initiatives. Many sandwiches are made, particularly now, when long-term residents are encouraged to remain in their apartments and are served bagged meals to help social distancing initiatives in Catholic Charities facilities, she said.

Dowling said he is happy to help.

“If we can help Catholic Charities, knowing the impact they have and the lives they help every day? It was a natural choice,” he said.

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Category: Local News