ADAMS — On Wednesday morning, the Rohde Center, 2 East Church St., received a commercial grade refrigerator for its food pantry, along with several thousand dollars in donations, as part of an initiative known as the “Kooler Kids” program, created to supply dairy products and perishable food to local families.
This donation came from a partnership between Balchem, Dairy Farmers of America, Gold Star Feed and Grain in Adams Center, and Chobani Yogurt and was brought to the Rohde Center in part due to a nomination from Butterville Farms.
Donald Brown, Community Engagement Manager at Chobani, brought 40 cases of Chobani yogurt to help stock the new refrigeration unit.
“I know it was tough before the pandemic, and then the pandemic has made it even tougher for a lot of folks,” he said as he addressed the Rohde Center. “Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
The Rohde Center, which serves nine towns and three school districts, is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 9 to 11:45 a.m. and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. The center is closed on Wednesdays.
Along with the food pantry, the Rohde Center oversees free food distribution, a food co-op and diaper co-op. The Rohde Center Food Pantry has been providing emergency food to residents of southern Jefferson County since 1977 and is 100% reliant on grants and donations of time, money and product. Over 56% of its income comes from private donors, with the remaining 44% coming from grants through the Food Bank of CNY and others.
Vicki L. Pitkin wears two hats at the Rohde Center as both secretary for the center as well as the pantry manager.
“This is great because usually, I can’t order some of the stuff because we don’t have room for it and now I have plenty of room,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to offer cottage cheese and sour cream, everybody always likes cheese and people always ask for yogurt.”
Balchem Human Nutrition & Health delivers customized ingredient systems and key minerals and nutrients for the food, supplement and pharmaceutical markets. The company began a nationwide program in 2020 known as “Kooler Kids,” with an initial pledge of $25,000 targeted to 10 regions based on recommendations from locals to provide refrigeration units and, in turn, make dairy more accessible to those seeking it.
Skyler A. Barney, of Butterville Farms, nominated the center for the donation. Mr. Barney is the fifth generation on the farm, working alongside his grandparents, Dona and Howard, his uncle John, his father Jesse, cousins Anthony and Avery, and non-family member Timothy Keck.
“We’re five minutes down the road and we’ve been there since 1919, so we’re kind of committed to the area,” he said of the farm. “This program came about during COVID and that was a time when I was sending bulk tanks of milk to get dumped and I definitely didn’t like that, I’d much rather give milk away than have it go to waste. Really the pantry and the farm are in the same business — all we care about is getting people food.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, food insecurity is at an all-time high. In the U.S., one in six children are facing hunger. Local food banks and government programs are working to fill the gap, but need continues to grow. Fresh food, including dairy products, meat and produce, are in great demand but are difficult for most community programs to handle. Lack of refrigeration space limits donations that can be accepted and the amount of product that can be delivered to people in need.
The new refrigeration unit means more fresh foods, including milk, for those who need it during difficult times and in the future. One refrigeration unit can hold up to 5,000 gallons of milk over a year, which would deliver 80,000 servings of milk to a local community.
Balchem’s local field teams were empowered to work with partners and customers to identify local food pantries and coordinate additional sponsors. Dairy Farmers of America, through its DFA Cares Farmers Feeding Families Fund, committed money to keep the refrigerator full of milk. Through the creation of the Farmers Feeding Families Fund, which DFA created in April 2020, DFA and its farm family-owners and employees have been raising money to help provide support and deliver dairy products to community food pantries across the country.
This is one of 10 units being placed by the Kooler Kids program across the country, and it is the only one in New York State.
“Throughout the pandemic, hunger has been a consequence of that,” said Eileen H. Frangione, Balchem regional sales specialist in the northeast. “Balchem has felt very strongly about helping to do something good throughout this pandemic and provide nutritious dairy products to families.”
Andrew Dugan, general manager of Gold Star Feed & Grain, said the company has had a connection with the Rohde Center for years. When he heard about the Kooler Kids program, Mr. Dugan said it was logical to make a connection with the Rohde Center.
As a member of the Food Bank of CNY, the Rohde Center is able to purchase more than $10.50 worth of food for every $1 donated, sometimes more. It is run by an all-volunteer board of directors, one part-time, paid Food Pantry Manager, and a group of dedicated volunteers.
Ann L. Sanderson, past president and current vice president, and Connie L. Jansen, treasurer, said the donations of the refrigerator and yogurt and all the milk that is going to come with it will be a great help because the refrigerators and freezers the center had to work with before were quite small.
According to Mrs. Jansen, this past year the Rohde Center’s pantry served 239 unique households and served 59,944 meals from its Church St. location. Two hundred and fifty of the people served were children.
Representatives from Dairy Farmers of America, Chobani, the Rohde Center, Gold Star Feed and Grain, Butterville Farms and Balchem were in attendance Wednesday. With National Mac and Cheese day coinciding with Wednesday’s donation, Rhode Center Board President Gary W. Chesbro noted that you can’t make mac and cheese without dairy, so the new commercial refrigerator can help make plenty of it.
“I’d just like to thank all of you for all of this because I was born in a dairy farm and I never had to worry about milk insecurity, but a lot of people do,” Mr. Chesbro said to those gathered. “This will go a long way to help them get rid of that insecurity.”