Volunteer Design Student Shows How the Milk Flows

Volunteer design student and milk flows map

Curious how the milk flows at Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast? Where it comes from and where it goes? Check out this beautiful “Milk Flows 2019” map, handcrafted by Yue, a student at Harvard Graduate School of Design who dedicated countless volunteer hours to creating this masterpiece now hanging on our wall! “Making it has been a really enjoyable experience,” Yue says.

We first met Yue several years ago. As a freshman, she attended a volunteer fair at Brandeis University, where she met our Executive Director, Naomi Bar-Yam, who was seeking volunteers to help at the milk bank. Yue volunteered in the office for a semester, and we were sad to lose her when she transferred to Cornell.

In June 2018 Yue got back in touch. She would be starting graduate studies in landscape design in the fall, and wanted to volunteer for the summer. We always need volunteers in the office, so we signed her up right away.

Matching Volunteers With Projects

Whenever possible we try to match volunteers with projects to suit their skills and interests. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a volunteer who could . . .” is a frequent refrain in our office. Finally, with a design student here several days a week, we had a chance to review some of those dream projects and find one for Yue. While we were mulling over possibilities, Yue cheerfully agreed to fill in with mundane (but essential) volunteer activities as well, such as labeling bottles and compiling informational packets. In addition, she designed and created some books of local maps to help our Donor Intake Coordinators scope out depot locations for milk donors.

When we proposed a wall map showing where our milk comes from and where it goes, Yue lit up with excitement. She came up with several astounding possibilities for executing the project, including a map made of bubble wrap filled with colored fluid! Given how many milk bank staff members enjoy the fiber arts, we ultimately agreed on a map constructed of cloth and thread.

Donor, Depot, and Hospital Milk Flows

We provided Yue with data on how many milk donors came from each state, as well as the locations of our depots and the hospitals we serve. As she designed on her laptop, staff members would sneak peeks over her shoulder, where to our eyes she seemed to be plotting galaxies in her space-age design software!

Yue worked painstakingly through the summer to execute her design. She drew the map, outlined states in brown thread, and inserted blue pins for depots and white pins for hospitals. She chose pink thread to show milk flowing in from donors, and blue thread to show milk flowing out to hospitals. The color of the thread varies in intensity, depending on how many donors come from a particular state. Yue enjoyed the pace and challenge of working with fabric, which is not a medium she had used often in her design work.

Once school began in September, Yue came in to the milk bank on occasional Saturdays when one of our staff members was catching up on paperwork. Finally, in March, she came into the office one weekday to nail on the title and the legend. The Milk Flows 2019 map was ready for mounting on a burgundy-colored wall that perfectly complemented the colors Yue had chosen.

Now whenever visitors come by, we are proud to show off Yue’s map, and explain what the milk flows mean. For instance, looking at the map, might you wonder why our northeastern milk bank has pink threads flowing in from California, and even Hawaii? It turns out Boston is home to some of the nation’s top hospitals, which means that babies from other areas sometimes get transferred to the NICUs here, like the one at Boston Children’s Hospital. And sometimes pregnant moms from distant states give birth prematurely while visiting the city. In either case mom and baby might stay here for a while, with mom pumping, then donating her milk. There are many stories embedded in our map.

We are grateful to volunteer design student Yue for all the time, dedication, and love she invested to create this stunning work of art that helps us tell the milk bank’s stories. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by to see it! We are proud to show it off to everyone who visits.