CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The Piedmont Environmental Council is helping local dairy producers get their milk to people in need.

On Friday, Maola Dairy will be delivering 280 gallons of locally-produced milk to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank's Thomas Jefferson Area Branch in Charlottesville.

That milk will then be distributed to eight other food pantries in Greene, Albemarle and Madison counties as well as the city.

According to a release says this PEC initiative is helping dairy farmers, who would normally sell their product to school nutrition programs, connect with food insecure populations.

Thanks to a $5,000 gift from the PATH Foundation, $3,600 from the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation and contributions from private donors, PEC raised more than $45,000 to buy and deliver milk on a weekly basis.

"Based on conversations with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and other food pantries in the region, and the generous donations we've received, we are right now providing more than 800 gallons of milk weekly to 16 food banks in the northern Piedmont," said Matt Coyle, PEC's Buy Fresh Buy Local Coordinator. "We are thrilled by and grateful for our community's enthusiastic support of such an important effort when so many families and families are suffering."

The release says the initiative started following a conversation between PEC representatives and a Fauquier County dairy farmer who told PEC local dairies couldn't sell a big part of their milk because of schools being closed.

PEC also learned that certain types of food items were in short supply at local food pantries even though they were produced locally, especially milk.

"We saw an opportunity that PEC is in a unique position to take on, to support both our local dairy producers and our food-insecure populations by connecting local milk to local food pantries," added Coyle.

The release says PEC began fundraising so it could buy milk from the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, which operates under the brand name Maola.

"This is a great thing, to be able to quickly pivot and provide milk at new locations, and the community really supporting them. This type of partnership supports resilient rural communities by feeding those in need and purchasing from local dairy farmers," said Lindsay Reames of the dairy cooperative.

The initiative began in mid-May in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties and then quickly spread to Loudoun and Clarke counties.

The release says it will now provide milk to the Haven, the Holy Comforter Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, Loaves and Fishes, the Buck Mountain Food Pantry, the Covesville Baptist Church Food Pantry, the Madison Emergency Service Agency, the Blue Ridge Presbyterian Food Bank, and Feeding Greene.

"The coronavirus pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in our food supply chain and illustrates the incredible value of strong, sustainable local food systems, not only for times like these, but also after the current crisis passes when consumers want access to more nutritious and more locally-produced food," said Coyle. "Small, family-owned dairy farms are already operating on the edge of survival due to falling milk prices and competition with milk alternatives as well as commercial-scale dairy operations. Absent innovative approaches to the supply-chain issues revealed during the pandemic, many will not make it through this period. We hope this shift to supply local food pantries makes a real difference."

"It's exciting to see such a rapid and enthusiastic community solution to a systemic problem, and we critically need a more holistic solution in the long run," said PEC President Chris Miller. "The Piedmont Environmental Council has been working on sustainable food systems in the northern Piedmont for more than 15 years, and we hope this effort to connect local farms to local consumers will build a wider recognition for the need for investment in a strong local food supply chain."

He also says having PEC in the middle of local food sourcing is not a permanent solution.

PEC says it hopes to expand the program further, into Culpeper and Orange counties, as well as exploring to include beef and eggs, which have also been in short supply in community food banks.

Anyone interested in supporting the initiative should contact PEC's Development Adviser Doug Larson at (540) 347-2334, extension 7004 or [email protected].