The plane wasn’t able to fly, so a back-up plan needed to be made. One of Brad Goplin’s Holsteins would have to be painted.
The Trempealeau County scene, organized with the help of Pastor Mary Ann Bowman of Peace Lutheran of Pigeon Falls, elicited a “Holy cow,” from Mike Rowe, the creator of the Discovery Channel program “Dirty Jobs,” who was on a videocall with Jackie Goplin and Beth Stay to surprise them with a $15,000 donation to their organization, Curds for Kids, which supplies cheese curds for school lunches in an effort to help dairy farmers and feed hungry children.
Since going live on April 8, Goplin and Stay’s nonprofit, Curds for Kids, has raised more than $50,000 and has delivered about 16,500 pounds of cheese curds from plants representing 800 local farmers. Curds for Kids has distributed the curds through six Trempealeau County schools, feeding more than 3,000 kids a week, and supplies several food pantries with curds.
“It was a huge leap of faith when we started this,” Goplin said. “We had no idea if anyone had any money to give.”
But in the first two weeks of the program, Curds for Kids raised about $20,000.
“At that point, we were like, ‘We can do this. And, hopefully, we can finish the summer,’” Goplin said.
Rowe’s surprise donation would allow them to keep the program going through the summer with less focus on fundraising efforts, Goplin said.
“At the beginning, we didn’t have a big vision,” Stay said. “We were reacting to this horrible situation of farmers dumping milk coinciding with students being hungry.
“We had to do something about that. And we weren’t the only people who wanted to do something, and that’s why people have done such an incredible job of supporting us financially. All we did was provide the framework to allow the dollars to flow from the community to the dairies to the kids.”
Goplin and Stay created Curds for Kids after meeting through their pastor at Peace Lutheran of Pigeon Falls.
Stay first approached Pastor Mary Ann Bowman about wanting to help dairy farmers who were struggling with lowered demand for milk early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay said it was difficult to see farmers having to dispose of milk that exceeded processors’ capacity while knowing there were children who would no longer have access to nutritious lunches when the pandemic closed schools.
Bowman recommended Stay get in tough with Goplin, whose family has been farming in Trempealeau County for six generations.
“Pastor Mary Ann is the one who put Jackie and me together,” Stay said. “We think that was a really good piece of wisdom that she contributed at the very beginning that was very pivotal.”
After Goplin and Stay talked and started wondering how to help, Goplin’s son, Brad, showed her a Facebook post about Rich Miller’s efforts to get cheese curds into the lunches handed out by school districts in the New Richmond area. Goplin contacted Miller, who encouraged her to try to do something similar in Trempealeau County.
“He told me a little bit about what they were doing, and it was like, ‘This is perfect, this is what we need to do here,’” she said. “The more people that do it, the better for everybody.”
Curds for Kids was founded as an outreach ministry from Peach Lutheran of Pigeon Falls. Another member of Peace Lutheran, Cindy Hangartner, connected Goplin and Stay with Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire, which allowed Curds for Kids to create a website for taking donations.
Stay works for the school district in Arcadia and Goplin works for the school district in Whitehall, and both credited the time spent working on the curd-donation program with helping them cope with their newfound free time following school closures.
Trempealeau County schools in Arcadia, Blair-Taylor, Independence, Galesville-Ettrick-Trempealeau, Whitehall and Osseo-Fairchild participated in Curds for Kids efforts during the remainder of the school year.
Cheese curds for the program come from Lynn Dairy in Granton, where Goplin’s son ships his milk, and from AMPI in Blair.
“Both of the dairies right from the beginning gave us a very good price,” Stay said.
The cost of the cheese curds has increased since the beginning of the program, but that’s a price Stay and Goplin said they are willing to pay.
“One of the points was to help dairy farmers, and if they’re getting more for their milk, we’re very happy about that,” Stay said.
“We’re happy to pay more,” Goplin said.
With schools out for the summer, Stay and Goplin are still delivering curds weekly to four of the six districts.
“The kids and families really like cheese curds,” Stay said. “We, along the way, have said, ‘Are you sick of this? Do you want a change? Do you want to get something different? Do you want us to take a week off?’ ‘No, no, no, no. We like cheese curds.’”
One-pound bags of cheese curds are sent each week in the bagged lunches. Families with multiple school-aged children can get more than one bag of cheese curds included with their lunches. For the week, the school lunches also include a gallon of milk per child, Goplin said.
Rowe connected with Goplin and Stay for an episode of the Facebook Watch program he hosts called “Returning the Favor.” With “Returning the Favor” Rowe honors one person each week, telling their story and setting up a surprise reward.
“Most people can’t possibly understand what that would feel like for a farmer, to take their product and literally flush it away knowing that within 30, 40, 50 miles there are hungry people,” Rowe said during the episode. “It’s gotta be one of the great tragedies of modern agriculture.”
Stay and Goplin were in contact several times with producers of Rowe’s “Returning the Favor,” but were surprised to find out in mid-June videographers would be arriving on the farm in two days.
“At the very end, we had a strong suspicion that we might be getting something, but we really did not know,” Stay said. “We thought we were just going to have another Zoom call with the producers.”
Goplin said Bowman was the insider, coordinating between Goplin and Stay and the show’s producers. That meant when weather wouldn’t let the plane fly that was to reveal the $15,000 donation, Bowman had to come up with a Plan B.
“She said, ‘It’s a good thing you’re dealing with people from rural Wisconsin, because we know how to improvise,’” Stay said. “Plan B was the cow, so that was good.”
The donation will allow Curds for Kids to finish the summer by filling school lunches with cheese curds and add a couple food pantries to the donations. When school begins again, Stay said the organization should still be able to supply kitchen staff with curds to put out as snacks on the lunch lines.
Stay and Goplin said it’s remarkable hearing how grateful farmers are for their efforts and seeing the response from donors to the program.
“I think it means a lot to farmers that we are doing this,” Stay said. “Many people care deeply about the dairy farmer and so appreciate that we are helping.”
“The thing that is remarkable to me is on our donor page, all the comments of the people who are donating,” Goplin said. “People really comment on the farming aspect, ‘It’s so good to hear you’re doing something for the farmers.’
“It’s been heartwarming for me. I live on the farm, and I know it’s not easy.”