Written and published by Turlock Journal on May 8, 2020

Hilmar Cheese Company is making an effort to contribute to the community through a variety of means during the coronavirus pandemic by handing out college scholarships and donating unused food.

Farm Credit, Dairy Farmers of America and Hilmar Cheese have partnered to help provide meals to California families in need through the state’s Farm to Family Program — a movement meant to help meet the growing demand at food banks due to the economic downturn caused by the virus crisis.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recognized the program last week, noting that private funding from Farm Credit and other organizations “will be leveraged to launch a $15 million campaign to support the Farm to Family program through the end of the year.”

“This partnership between the dairy industry, the state and the private sector will provide nutritious food to the growing number of California families who need it, and we are proud to be a part of the program,” said Leili Ghazi, chair of the Farm Credit Marketing Alliance in California and senior vice president of the Farm Credit Banking Group at CoBank. “Farm Credit, Hilmar Cheese and DFA have been working for several weeks to make this program a reality and I’m thrilled that we were able to overcome logistical challenges to make it happen.”

Seed money from Farm Credit provided to the California Association of Food Banks will help distribute 37,000 pounds of cheese — 10,000 pounds of two-pound cheese blocks from DFA and 27,000 additional pounds of bagged cheese shreds from Hilmar Cheese.

According to Hilmar Cheese director of education and public relations Denise Skidmore, the company’s donation is the equivalent of 432,000 one-ounce servings.

“Hilmar Cheese Company is pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this program and make 27,000 pounds of cheese available to families in need,” Skidmore said.

Due to the pandemic, food banks have seen an increase in demand of over 70 percent, while farmers and ranchers are experiencing a market decrease of 50 percent due to drop-offs in the foodservice sector.

Many farmers, dairy operators and others have been forced to dump or plow under their commodities because they can’t afford to harvest, process and ship food to food banks, but now the Farm to Family Program will facilitate food donations from companies like Hilmar Cheese by supporting food production — including offsetting the costs of picking, packing and transporting donated commodities.

Stacia Hill Levenfeld, CEO of the California Association of Food Banks, applauded the donation and partnership between the companies.

“Cheese is a coveted commodity at food banks as it’s valued by young and old alike,” Levenfeld said. “Food banks provide essential groceries for those who struggle to make ends meet and we are incredibly grateful to Farm Credit for supporting access to cheese through our food banks. This donation could not come at a more opportune time as the need for nutrition support has exploded throughout our state. Thank you to Farm Credit for your donation and your leadership. I hope this inspires others to help us meet the urgent need in our communities.”

In addition to working with Farm Credit to donate much-needed food, Hilmar Cheese is also taking time to help 42 high school seniors pay for college through $30,000 worth of scholarships.

The students, who demonstrated community involvement, academic performance and financial need, will each receive a scholarship toward higher education through Hilmar Cheese’s 18th annual scholarship program.

The scholarship program has three categories: children of employees of Hilmar Cheese Company, children of the dairy farm families who ship milk to Hilmar Cheese Company and students with an agricultural major living in the counties where the company is located. This third category is for students not affiliated with the company, but dedicated to the agricultural industry and living in Merced and Stanislaus counties in California, and Dallam and Hartley counties in Texas.

Thirteen children of employees will receive a $1,000 scholarship, including local students Ethan Machado (CSU Stanislaus), Jesse Gutierrez (Delhi High School), Justin Barros (Hilmar High School) and Sierra Alamo (CSU Stanislaus).

Four children of the dairy farm families who ship their milk to Hilmar Cheese Company in California will also receive a $1,000 scholarship, including local students Jacob Silva (Turlock High School), John Alamo (Hilmar High School) and Jordyn Silva (Turlock High School).

Merced and Stanislaus counties California agricultural majors were each awarded $500, including local students Alison Nunes (Modesto Junior College), Alyce Silva (Modesto Junior College), Billy Marchy (Turlock High School), Carolyn Boster (Fresno State), Cole Marchy (Modesto Junior College), Isabel Paterson (Hilmar High School) and Rikki Silveira (Hilmar High School). Aidan Azevedo (Hilmar High School) will receive $1,000.

For next year, qualifying students are encouraged to apply November 1 through February 1, 2021. For more information about Hilmar Cheese Company’s scholarship program, visit the About Us section of www.hilmarcheese.com.

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