When it comes to food shelf needs, fresh milk is near the top of the list.

So when Jayme Revermann, executive director of the Meeker County Food Shelf, saw a Stony Creek Dairy delivery truck back up and begin to unload crates of milk earlier this month, she could not have been happier.

"It's a really big deal for us," Revermann said. "Previously, we did not consistently have fresh milk available. We had shelf stable milk, which is not the same for most people. So to have fresh milk every month, that's going to be great."

The milk delivery came courtesy of First District Association employees, who in February launched an effort to donate dairy products to local food shelves.

"We created a year-long commitment to provide local food shelves with a consistent supply of milk," said Ashley Warren, a FDA employee. "This program gave employees the option to donate a set amount of money on a monthly basis to provide milk for local food shelves."

Eric Johnson, environmental health and safety coordinator at First District Association, loads crates of milk onto a cart to be hauled into the Meeker County Emergency Food Shelf.The effort generated a fund that will deliver $500 of milk — up to 125 gallons — every month to Meeker Area Food Shelf and Melrose Area Food Shelf.

Eric Johnson, environmental health and safety coordinator at First District, said the program could expand at some point in the future. But the two food shelves were chosen because Litchfield is First District's headquarters, and Melrose is in Stearns County, where nearly half of the dairy cooperative's 800-plus member farms are located.

Johnson said he liked the idea of the program providing fresh milk to the food shelves, because that allowed food shelves to use funds allocated for dairy products on other items like cheese and yogurt.

In addition to employees participating in the program, milk haulers and member creameries were invited to participate.

Rick and Donna Anderson, owners of Rick Anderson Transport of Litchfield, joined Jeff Edmonds Trucking and Millwod Transportation, in participating. Rick Anderson sees it as a way of giving back, and since "we were able to keep working during the COVID, we needed to do something."

"There's families who need way more than we do," Donna Anderson said. "And what's better than milk on your cereal?"

Warren said FDA employees hope to keep the challenge going for a long time, farm beyond the May 2021 end date of this first challenge.