A dream you dream alone is only a dream.
A dream you dream together is reality. – John Lennon
Fifteen years ago this week, March 14, 2006, a small group of five gathered to discuss a crazy idea of establishing a milk bank in the “medical capital” of Boston. Thus began an extraordinary community journey to establish the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England, now Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast to reflect better the geographic area we serve.
With each meeting, interest, attendance, and our task lists grew. Each of our founders has his or her own story and reason for the passion and dedication it has taken to establish Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast and see it flourish: we were NICU nurses and lactation consultants who had seen the power of human milk for our tiny, fragile charges; moms who had breastfed our own babies, and in some cases, donated our milk to others in need; a biochemist who had devoted his career to unlocking the secrets of human milk. Of the core group at our first meetings, almost all are still involved with the milk bank.
Growth over 15 years
The small community that fit around a dining room table in 2006 has grown to a staff of 22, an 11-member Board of Directors and Medical/Research Advisory Board of 27 clinicians and researchers from all over the region, 20+ volunteers in and out of our office, student interns, graduate students, 29 depots, six dispensaries, over 8,000 donors of their precious milk, nurses, lactation consultants, physicians, dieticians from over 90 hospitals, and 560+ families who have received milk from us outside the hospital.
We opened our doors in 2008 in a 1,100 square foot classroom in a school building that had been turned into a cultural center (used for community music, theater, and arts events, not the bacterial cultures of milk banking), with a few scratch and dent freezers and a tiny milk processing lab built in the classroom’s arts and crafts pantry. We are now outgrowing our 5,000+ square foot office and lab, and we keep our milk safe and frozen in a walk-in freezer and seven chest freezers, pasteurize it in five shaking water baths, and clean our supplies in two sterilizing dishwashers.
Certification and licensing milestones
As we were starting up, building out our lab, getting our procedures, protocols, and funding in order, we distributed, in our area, pasteurized milk from Mothers’ Milk Bank of Ohio. We received our HMBANA certification and began processing and dispensing our own milk in August 2011, 5½ years after our first meeting.
In 2012, we completed our New York State Department of Health Tissue Banking License, allowing us to receive milk from and send milk to New York donors and hospitals, providing our lifesaving service to more fragile babies in need. Today we also have tissue banking licenses in Maryland and California, the other two states requiring it. As required by HMBANA and the law, we are also registered with FDA as a food facility.
Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast continues to grow. In addition to providing donor human milk, our milk bank is an integral part of breastfeeding support through partnerships with WIC, breastfeeding coalitions, Baby Café USA, and hospitals throughout our region.
Donor and pasteurization milestones
As if in honor of this milestone, we recently pasteurized our 6,000th batch of milk, and screened our 8,000th donor.
All of this is possible because of the passion, dedication, time, blood, sweat, and tears of so many. Congratulations to all of us in our growing community on the important work we do every day.
This week, we mark the 15th anniversary of our beginning—our gestation. In August we will mark 10 years since our birth as a full-fledged milk bank. Do you have memories, photos, and stories to share? Please be in touch with us!