In media, information has potential not to only reach many, but make a positive impact that ripples throughout the community. Many times the true result of a news report is never able to be measured or quantified, but when it is, it can be inspiring.
When Golden Guernsey plant employees came into work on a Saturday and were told they had to leave, area media outlets tracked the progression through the weekend, reporting on the Waukesha dairy facility closing and hundreds of curious and soon-to-be displaced workers.
"The desk did a great job of keeping track of developments through the weekend," WISN-TV Ch. 12 reporter Nick Bohr said. "They were hearing from employees saying they were, ‘not letting us in to do our jobs’ and called and verified with the plant manager that under orders from the owner to shut the plant down."
Within the same week, the parent company filed for bankruptcy and Bohr, like other reporters from other area media outlets, had an opportunity to talk with the CEO. While continuing to work on angles for follow-up reports, Bohr heard that the plant was still loaded with product.
"While they were closed, there weren’t any pickups," Bohr said, explaining that finished packaged product – gallons of milk – was still in there. Bohr called contacts at area dairy supply firms and was told that they were not bringing in anything, but that items were probably still on the lines, in containers and areas ready to be shipped out.
He reached out to Golden Guernsey executives, who put him in touch with the law firm that was acting as the trustee, located in New Jersey. When they first spoke, if the product wasn’t food-based, the trust said that a liquidation sale would work. If the items were more what’s called, "shelf stable," or having a longer shelf life before a best sold by date, liquidation or a quick sale could salvage the products.
In his investigation, Bohr found out that there were thousands of gallons of bottled milk that had 10 days or better before the store sell-by dates expired. He wanted to get community reaction, someone who would both be able to understand the potential waste of all that milk, as well as the real needs families in Wisconsin face. Bohr went out to interview Hunger Task Force Executive Director Sherrie Tussler.
"Sherrie was really ticked," Bohr said when he took a camera crew to the Hunger Task Force to sit down with Tussler and talk about the situation. "It was all that waste, with milk being very sustaining and a symbol … food that’s healthy for families."
Bohr said that Tussler isn’t the type of person to sit back and simply say that it is a shame.
"She’s passionate about what she can do, and asked if the trustee knew about the Good Samaritan law in Wisconsin," Bohr said.
Wisconsin Statute 895.51, among a number of other things, basically lays out a number of protections from liability when items or service are given in good faith. For people donating food, it can protect companies and individuals from liability issues.
"I got a call from WISN 12 about all that was in the building and in response it was just sad to see all that milk go to waste," Tussler said.
Bohr shared the contact info he had, and Tussler went to work with multiple calls and emails to New Jersey.
"I never called and talked to him in person, but through voicemails and emails, by Monday, he released the product, what he had control of and that was the Golden Guernsey brand," Tussler said.
Tussler said that there were limits on how many people could be in the facility at one time, but she and a number of volunteers went in and started to move all the gallons of milk that were kept in the cold. Some crates were on pallets, others on trucks and more in other places. The crews kept some doors open to help keep the milk cool and put a plan in place to distribute what could be successfully collected.
"Our final estimate was 128,000 gallons," Tussler said of the milk that was able to be given throughout the state of Wisconsin under a number of brands that were packaged at the plant. "We reached out to sister programs that are affiliated with food pantries in their communities."
Because of the efforts by Hunger Task Force, the legal and ownership arms of those involved with the plant and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and a number of volunteers, the milk got out to people who needed it.
From southeastern Wisconsin to as far out at Superior, dozens of facilities received shipments to distribute. Each agency was able to decide the best way to get the milk to where it needed to go. In some cases, it had to happen pretty quickly. In La Crosse, a truck was parked outside of a Shopko store and a drive-through was set up.
"We just told them that the limit was one gallon per person in the car," Tussler said.
Thousands of families were able to benefit from this effort.
"We were trying to work out a value for this," Tussler said. "A 128,000 gallons at $3.69 a gallon, that works out to more than $420,000 worth of milk.
"Nick deserves an award."
For Bohr, he was able to track the progression of the story. Through his reporting and the telling of what happened next, he saw everything materialize.
"You try to do stories that are interesting, that impact in a certain way," Bohr said. "You want to make a difference, and to have something so tangible, and see the difference, is gratifying."
Media is bombarding us everywhere.
Instead of sheltering his brain from the onslaught, Steve embraces the news stories, entertainment, billboards, blogs, talk shows and everything in between.
The former writer, editor and producer in TV, radio, Web and newspapers, will be talking about what media does in our community and how it shapes who we are and what we do.