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story.lead_photo.caption Volunteers work to load a car with free milk June 17, 2020, during a United Way distribution event. United Way of Central Missouri, in partnership with Graves Menu Maker Foods, has helped to facilitate a number of milk giveaways in California and surrounding mid-Missouri communities, giving away 3,888 gallons per day at each stop. Photo by Austin Hornbostel / California Democrat.

Last Wednesday, California residents could definitely say they "got milk."

United Way of Central Missouri, in partnership with Graves Menu Maker Foods, was on hand at Moniteau Christian Ministries Center distributing 3,888 gallons of free milk through the USDA Farmers to Families Program. The distribution was one of a series of such stops around the Mid-Missouri area, which has seen similar milk giveaways in nearby communities such as Holts Summit and Jefferson City.

People who took advantage of the giveaway were able to drive home with as many gallons as they'd like loaded into their vehicles, some even bringing full-sized coolers to pack.

The idea started with an email, Lynne Bateman, administrative coordinator with United Way of Central Missouri, said. Someone had heard Menu Maker was giving out free milk and contacted United Way's president, asking if there might be any agencies who may be in need of such assistance. Bateman was asked to contact Graves Foods and find out more.

The contract allowed Graves Foods six trucks per day for six weeks, each of which could carry 972 crates of four gallons of milk — a total of 3,888 gallons per truck.

"I just kept doing the math, because I kept thinking, 'I can't be doing this right. How can we hand out over 3,000 gallons of milk in one day?'" Bateman said. "And they can't take it back, that's the thing. So every day that we're doing this, we have to get rid of all the milk."

That's why there's no limit on how many gallons can be taken home, Bateman said. The milk goes to everyone, from single family units to day cares, schools and churches. She said the communities that United Way has helped via the program so far have been appreciative.

The first attempt in Jefferson City was a big success, Bateman said, and prompted United Way to begin looking to offer two trucks per week in communities around United Way of Central Missouri's coverage area. Week two saw milk trucks set up shop in Jefferson City again, as well as Holts Summit. California was one of the two stops last week. A truck will again be in Jefferson City today, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. at Capital West Christian Church event center.

Bateman said she noticed even early on Wednesday that volunteers were filling up full cars for people who came by in California.

"There's times when you have cars lined all the way back, and then there's been some lulls this morning," Bateman said last Wednesday, about midway through the morning. "But whenever you're a little bit off the beaten path, it makes a difference."

She said this is good, since organizers have to have a plan by 5 p.m. to get any remaining milk off the truck and distributed somewhere in the community.

Bateman said pending the success of last week's milk giveaway and the extension of the USDA contract — which was approved on June 17 for extension from July 1-Aug. 30 — California may see another milk truck roll into town in early July.

"This milk expires July 4," Bateman said. "And it's always fresh milk, straight from Central Dairy, so it's not like we're trying to get rid of milk that's getting close to expiring or anything like that."

Bateman said the program accomplishes a number of positives for Mid-Missouri communities, including cutting back on food waste and helping out community members who may be struggling due to the continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

If anyone wants to volunteer, Bateman said they can contact her or Tabatha Brightwell, of United Way, to learn more. The United Way of Central Missouri can be reached at 573-636-4100.

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