People benefit from milk rescue

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Hundreds of people got their daily dose of dairy during a milk giveaway Wednesday in Superior.

A total of 592 crates filled with milk, cottage cheese and orange juice were handed out to Wisconsin residents.

"I have three kids at my house so it'll be very helpful," said Mary Willie of Superior as she waited in line for milk. "We sometimes go through a gallon a day."

The milk came from a Golden Guernsey Dairy plant in Waukesha that closed abruptly earlier this month. Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee lobbied to send the milk statewide to those who could use it. The plant trustee was reluctant to give away the milk at first due to liability issues, according to Sherrie Tussler, Hunger Task Force executive director. But under the state's Good Samaritan law, the business can't be held liable for the donation.

The move kept the product from getting dumped, said Millie Rounsville, executive director of Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency, which distributed the milk in Superior.

"Why waste it?" said Ryan Moen of Superior, who picked up two crates of milk for his family of four. And with the economy the way it is, said a laid-off Georgia Pacific worker who declined to give his name, anything like this helps.

Word about the Superior giveaway was spread through posters, Facebook posts, email, phone calls and word of mouth. Tony Sharon of Superior learned about the free milk at a local food pantry and decided to check it out.

"This is cool," he said. "It's real nice of them."

People of all ages stood in the cold for the milk; others drove through the alley across from Solid Rock Mission and had it loaded into their vehicles. Each family received one or two crates of milk depending on how much they felt they could use. Everything disappeared quickly except for five crates of cottage cheese.

"So many people appreciated it," said Dianne Nelson, an employee of NWCSA. "It was awesome."

"I think it shows the strength of the network in the state of Wisconsin," Rounsville said. "Because Milwaukee coordinated this, everybody got involved across the state. We all got it distributed and that's a whole lot of product that didn't end up in the landfill."

Tussler estimated that 128,000 gallons of milk was rescued, with a net worth of $472,000. Hunger Task Force bore the brunt of the work, packing crates by hand and filling trucks to ship it statewide. They also shouldered the $10,000 cost of the operation. It was free for local agencies like NWCSA.

The Superior giveaway went smoothly thanks to employees and unexpected volunteers.

Megan Brandt, a nursing student at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College of Superior, spent her morning in the frigid temperatures chatting with people, checking IDs and hoisting crates into cars. She got information through the college that free milk was being distributed.

"I don't need it," she said, but she wanted to lend a hand.

Tim and Kathy Moder of Superior stopped by the site for some milk. They saw many people trying to carry heavy crates in the cold, slippery conditions. So instead of snagging a crate for themselves, they put on orange safety vests and helped give it away.

Even the Superior police got involved. So many cars were lining up along North Sixth Street that it was causing a traffic jam, according to Superior Police Department records. A squad car did respond to the area briefly.

Rounsville wasn't surprised by the big turnout, or the myriad of addresses she saw when people flashed their IDs -- Gordon, Poplar, Solon Springs, Wentworth, South Range and more.

"We got a lot of people, a lot of 'Thank you's,' a lot of appreciation," she said. "So a lot of kids are going to be drinking that milk."

Tussler said the milk should be good for approximately a week after the expiration date on the jugs. She also hoped businesses will keep the Good Samaritan law in mind when they have expiring food. If people want to help out, she suggested they plug into their local agency, like NWCSA.

"Neighbor-to-neighbor is the best way to help," Tussler said.

This is the first time the Milwaukee-based agency has done something on a statewide level. It was a little bit of a trial by fire, working with a product that expired so quickly. Hopefully another situation like this won't happen, Tussler said. "But if it does, we'll be ready."