NEW YORK—The milkman and the milk truck were a familiar sight many years ago. On Thursday, a new kind of milkman appeared on the scene to distribute free milk to New York City’s needy families, as part of the official launch of the Milk From the Heart program.
Milk From the Heart is the brainchild of business entrepreneur and philanthropist Leonard Stern, who is the founder and chairman of the Hartz Mountain Corporation. Stern has a net worth of $3.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
The distribution of free milk will start in Manhattan and then expand to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and finally to Staten Island.
The program is part of the Home for the Homeless, an organization that “provides transitional shelter to about 500 families every night,” according to Stern, who founded the organization 20 years ago.
Stern's work with the homeless families led him to discover that there is a great absence of milk in the diets of children in those families. “A child that grows up without milk is a child that grows up with health problems,” he said.
Stern and his wife, Allison, decided to support the Milk From the Heart program, which aims to eventually give away a million quarts of milk each year.
The initial process of setting up the program involved conducting a pilot study on the distribution of free milk to low-income communities, in order to find out who and what motivated people to pick up the free milk and also to address the issue of whether fresh milk is affordable or readily available to the city’s neediest families.
“We found out that people want to give their children milk. They want to have milk in the house. But times are tough, and there is so much real dire poverty that they can’t afford it,” Stern said. People want the free milk so badly that even on the cold and rainy days, they would stand in the line for half an hour to an hour to get two quarts of milk, he added.
Findings from the pilot study indicated that the distribution of free milk had not affected the sales of milk in the neighborhood groceries. The Sterns are excited about reaching out to a group of needy families that they were unable to reach before.
The program buys milk directly from the dairy. Richard Naczi, chief executive officer of the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Inc., stated the Milk From the Heart program is “not only taking care of the nutritional needs” but also providing “emotional support for these kids, [by showing them] that somebody is coming into the community that really cares.”
Staff members from the Nourishing NYC attended Thursday’s launch to offer children healthy snacks and to match the free skim milk.
“We just do more of the eating perspective. They just do more of the drinking perspective. Between the two of us, you get a meal,” said Scott Keatley, Nourishing NYC director of education.
Milk From the Heart is not only for homeless families but also for all low-income families. According to the Food Bank of New York City 2010 survey, nearly 3 million New Yorkers struggle to put food on their tables. The survey indicated that families often had to reduce their food intake and the quality of their food in order to get by financially.
Milk is seen as a good choice because of its high nutritional value and high protein content.
When asked, recipients of the free milk shared how they would use it.
“It’s a wonderful thing. The milk is mostly for my 90-year-old mother,” said Yvette Melandez, 68, a retired nursing attendant.
Seven-month-pregnant Amanda Baudista, 33, who was there to get the free milk for her three children, said, “I am going to use the milk for their breakfast when they go to school.”
“It’s nice, because things are so expensive. This milk is for my family and [for] myself,” said Joanna Molina, 69, a retiree.
Olivia Hill, 55, another retiree, shared this sentiment. “I think it’s wonderful with today’s economy and the loss of jobs that this foundation is giving back to the community. I am grateful,” she said.