By Shannon Lucas
Nearly 30 years ago, the Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition was created with a simple mission: to decrease infant mortality. We began working with local families to meet their needs, expanding programs, and doing all we could to ensure every baby has a healthy start. We knew that exclusive human milk feeding reduced infant death and have successfully coached countless families. In 2007, the seeds of a dream began to grow in the mind of our CEO. One day, we would open a milk bank!
At the time, CEO Arianna Nesbitt (also a labor doula) began getting frenzied phone calls from moms near the end of their breastfeeding journey. They asked, “What do I do with my milk?” She heard the panic in their voice when they faced throwing out milk from the freezer. Thinking back, Ms. Nesbitt stated, “They wanted to help. They didn’t want their energy, commitment, and late-night hours pumping milk to go to waste.”
In 2019, the Coalition began the process of becoming a milk bank depot through a partnership with the Mother’s Milk Bank of Florida. Soon, local donors would be able to nourish premature babies in the NICU of hospitals around Florida.
Opening a Key West depot was also a dream of Karen Kesler, one of the founding members of the Mother’s Milk Bank of Florida. She stated, “Our Florida Keys donors have never had a community partner to help coordinate their donations. Opening a new depot in an underserved area is always exciting. A partnership with a Healthy Start partner was especially exciting because they are already working right there at the heart of the community.”
The partnership works like this: Mother’s Milk Bank screens donors from the Florida Keys to ensure they meet the donation criteria. Once approved, the donors can drop their milk off locally at the depot location in Key West. Staff inspects the small freezer and milk daily to ensure it stays frozen and, therefore, safe. When the freezer is full, the Mother’s Milk Bank comes to collect, process, and distribute the life-saving milk to fragile infants.
In the first eight months of the Key West depot being open, they received 4,580 ounces of donor milk from screened volunteers. Kandis Natoli, Executive Director of Mother’s Milk Bank of Florida, greatly admires these selfless donors. “I can tell you that I am inspired by our [donor’s] every day. They selflessly provide the true milk of human kindness so that another [family’s] child may benefit. These [donors] are heroes coming to the rescue of a child they will likely never know. They don’t care what color the child is, what the parents do for a living, or their political beliefs; our [donor’s] just give.”
Now that the Key West milk depot is open, what are the plans for the future? The Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition envisions a day where the conversations about milk donation begin during pregnancy so that all families know their options and how the process works. Ms. Nesbitt elaborates, “I have seen it time and again…educated and empowered [people] changing the world.”
For more information about milk donation and the screening process, go to https://www.keyshealthystart.org/milk-bank.
I’m a breastfeeding advocate who chose to breastfeed my son exclusively despite many challenges. I work for the Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition, Monroe County’s organization serving families before, during, and after pregnancy.
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