In the days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, fairlife quickly joined forces with a few of its Chicago-area neighbors to get its high-protein dairy drinks to communities on the devastated island.

Mike McCloskey, fairlife co-founder, mobilized his team after the powerful storm made landfall. He grew up in Puerto Rico, so his first-hand knowledge of the island – combined with what fairlife had seen and learned following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma – created a sense of urgency.

“Mike called and said, ‘Let’s really work to figure out how to get some fairlife products down there ASAP… no matter what it takes’,” recalled Anders Porter, VP of communications at fairlife.

In the weeks prior, fairlife had donated thousands of bottles of Core Power and its new smart milkshakes to relief efforts following Harvey and Irma, adding to the cases of Dasani water and other beverages The Coca-Cola Company donated via the American Red Cross to towns in Texas and teaming up with Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida to reach impacted communities. Both fairlife beverages are shelf-stable and packed with protein, so they can travel without refrigeration and provide much-needed nutrition to those impacted on the ground.

Getting cases to Puerto Rico via air or sea presented more logistical challenges, however, especially given the compromised infrastructure on the island.

The fairlife team was contacting Coca-Cola partner cruise line and air line customers to figure out how to quickly and efficiently get product to the island, when a conversation with Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks headquartered down the street from fairlife’s Windy City offices, provided a much-needed break.

“I spoke with the Feeding America team and learned they were longstanding partners with United Air Lines – which is also based in Chicago,” said Gary Poos (pictured above, in the blue fairlife shirt), a fairlife consultant who recently retired from Coca-Cola after more than 30 years. “At the same time, my fairlife colleague, Mark Hepp, had been in touch with Mark Spiway on the Coca-Cola United Airlines team. And it it just so happened that they were preparing an air freight shipment to San Juan.”

“Feeding America called us around 6 p.m. and said, ‘United has a flight leaving O’Hare tomorrow morning for San Juan, but product must be there to load by midnight. Can you get a truck here?”

Hepp quickly called fairlife’s primary production facility in Coopersville, Michigan, to see what could be done. fairlife dispatcher Betty Verberg worked through the night with a warehouse partner in nearby Grand Rapids to get 24 pallets of smart milkshakes loaded onto a truck and on the road for the three-hour drive to Chicago. Once the product arrived, the driver had to reconfigure the inventory to clear TSA security, but made it to the plane staging area in time for takeoff.

When the United flight landed in San Juan, Feeding America member food bank Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico picked up to the shipment and brought it to a local warehouse, where volunteers packed up the shakes with other nonperishable items for local agencies, churches and food pantries to distribute to impacted families.

“The fact that fairlife figured out a way to get their products to the airport so quickly was incredibly important,” said Karen Hanner, managing director of manufacturing partnerships, Feeding America.

The fairlife beverages complemented the other foods and beverages the organization provided. “In addition to providing nutrition, our mission is to meet the needs of the community and promote dignity by not just giving them what might be needed to eat and drink in other communities, but by offering what they want to eat and drink based on their cultural preferences,” Hanner added. “And with no refrigeration throughout the supply chain on the ground, we were very limited as to what we could get there. So shelf stability was key.” 

In total, fairlife donated more than 840,000 bottles of smart milkshakes and Core Power in areas impacted by this season’s three major hurricanes.

“We definitely got a little lucky,” Poos recalled. “But we made this happen because of the sacrifices and hard work of everyone involved – all of whom jumped onboard without hesitation. We learned a lot about our capabilities through our new friends at Feeding America, who share our values and commitment to always do better.

“Chicago is a long way from Puerto Rico, but with Feeding America already working with the Puerto Rican food bank, it provided an opportunity for many more passionate people to step up and help.”