The Tillamook County Creamery Association — makers of Tillamook cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream — is dedicating $4 million to help employees, communities and foodservice partners recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Tillamook County Creamery Association is dedicating $4 million to help employees, communities and industry partners recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Oregon-based dairy co-op says it will expand sick leave and maintain full wages and benefits for nearly 1,000 workers, 700 of which are still working at processing plants in Tillamook and Morrow counties.

Employees will also receive double the number of paid volunteer hours, and manufacturing workers will get premium pay for keeping production lines operating.

“Extraordinary challenges require extraordinary responses, and it’s time for businesses — including ours — to step up in a big way,” Patrick Criteser, Tillamook president and CEO, said in a statement. “We are inspired by the critical role we play in keeping food on America’s tables, and are fortunate that our company is strong right now so we can help others.”

Tillamook announced the fund May 6, and plans make immediate donations to the Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Community Foundation and several local nonprofits. Contributions include:

• $200,000 to the Oregon Food Bank to address food insecurity statewide, including “significant” donations to the food banks in Tillamook and Morrow counties.

• $100,000 to the Oregon Community Foundation to support relief efforts across the state.

• $20,000 to the Tillamook County Action Resource Enterprises, which provides rental, energy and other emergency services for low- to middle-income families who have been laid off or lost wages as a result of the pandemic.

• $15,000 to the Tillamook County Wellness program to help fund a new youth outdoor recreation coordinator.

• $10,000 to the Tillamook Early Learning Center to keep the childcare facility open and offer scholarships to families.

• $5,000 to the Oregon State University Foundation for scholarships to students studying agriculture.

“Local nonprofits and small businesses are part of the fabric of rural communities, and we know they are hurting,” Criteser said. “We see an opportunity in our hometowns to help meet the unprecedented needs created by the pandemic.”

Another $500,000 is also earmarked for business revitalization efforts in Tillamook and Morrow counties, co-op officials said. The company is headquartered in the coastal community of Tillamook, Ore., though it also operates a large cheesemaking plant in the Eastern Oregon city of Boardman.

“By investing in programs that support our hometowns, ideally we can help return our communities to their thriving and robust potential and perhaps even create a model of business helping businesses that could be replicated elsewhere,” Criteser said.

Founded in 1909, the Tillamook County Creamery Associaton is now made up of about 80 farm families, mostly in Tillamook County. The creamery and visitor’s center in Tillamook is the most popular tourist destination on the Oregon coast, attracting more than 1 million visitors each year.

While the bulk of aid is focused on communities where employees live and work, Tillamook is also planning to support its retail, restaurant and food service partners across the country. Criteser said the co-op has built a lot of flexibility into the fund, and will adapt as needed “to ensure we’re making as strong of an impact as we possibly can.”

Shannon Lourenzo, a dairy farmer and chairman of the co-op’s board of directors, said Tillamook wants to give back during a time of need.

“People across the country are hunkering down at home and looking out for family, friends and neighbors,” Lourenzo said. “We are rising up to support the people and the places that have supported us for decades.”

Chobani, the Greek yogurt marker, plans to become a publicly traded company in 2022. In preparation for an initial public offering (IPO), the company filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

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