The Agriculture Department on Friday awarded $1.2 billion in contracts to distributors, processors and non-profit organizations to deliver fresh produce, milk, dairy products and pork and chicken directly to needy Americans. 

The unprecedented Farmers to Families Food Box Program is an effort to both shore up commodity prices while addressing the sharp growth in food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis. The contracts will cover the cost of buying and distributing the food, which is to be delivered in family-size boxes to pickup sites starting next Friday.

The largest contract, worth $147 million, went to Dallas-based Borden Dairy Co., which filed for bankruptcy in January. Borden will provide fluid milk to sites across the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest.

Other bid winners included Puerto Rico-based Caribbean Produce Exchange, which won a $107 million contract to provide boxes with a combination of products in the mid-Atlantic region. Combination boxes can include all of the eligible products. GA Food Services of Pinellas County Inc., based in St. Petersburg, Fla., got a $72.7 million contract to provide combination boxes in the Southeast. 

Among the non-profits that will be part of the program is North Carolina-based Baptists on Mission, which got a $1.6 million contract. 

Among the smallest awards was a $26,400 contract won by the Puget Sound Food Hub Cooperative in Washington. The Willimantic Food Co-op in Connecticut got a $1,400 contract.

The program will provide $461 million in fresh fruits and vegetables, $317 million in a variety of dairy products, $258 million in meat products and $175 million of the combination boxes.  

The program, which could be expanded to as much as $3 billion, is part of a $19 billion coronavirus relief initiative announced by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last month. 

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“This is a new, innovative approach to provide critical support to American farmers and families, and USDA moved as expeditiously as federal procurement rules allow to stand up the program and solicit offers,” said Perdue of the Food Box program. “We were pleased to see the abundance of interest from both food distributors and non-profit organizations.”

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, said the program "will establish a new paradigm for building partnerships among the public, private and non-profit sectors to respond to food insecurity. It is truly a win-win-win."

Read the full list of contract awardees here

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