Northwest Mothers Milk Bank Meets Fundraising Goal

Matching campaign will enable the organization to purchase a pasteurizer and start processing small quantities of donor milk

January 2, 2013 -- The Northwest Mothers Milk Bank is still pressing toward its goal of opening the first human milk processing center in the Northwest – and just completed a matching funds campaign to purchase an automated pasteurizer, said executive co-director Lesley Mondeaux.

“As of this morning, our total [from the matching funds campaign] was $23,600 which is amazing and wonderful,” said Lesley Mondeaux Wednesday morning. Funds from the year-end campaign were matched by an anonymous donor, and were earmarked for the purchase of an automated pasteurizer, which the organization will buy later this month. The machine has to be shipped from the United Kingdom, and will take a while to get to the milk bank's processing site in southwest Portland, but its arrival – and the completion of renovations to the processing site – will enable the organization to begin processing human milk onsite.

After operating for years as a strictly volunteer-run organization, the milk bank has been able to hire two part-time staff. Providence Health & Services has given the organization free office space in southwest Portland for the next three years, while the milk bank has needed to install new electrical wiring and some plumbing and flooring.

“The renovations have been going since about mid-December. They are close to being finished,” Mondeaux said, adding the space had to be rewired to accommodate the specialized processing equipment, and some of the plumbing had to be redone so the organization can install a commercial dishwasher.

Founded in 2008, the organization has been steadily raising funds with the goal of opening a donor breast milk processing site in the Northwest.

There are several sites in the Portland area, and around the state, where women can donate milk to babies in neo-natal intensive care units who are struggling to survive and who digest breast milk more easily than they do formula. But, the nearest sites where milk can be processed are in San Jose and Denver – and that's where milk donated by women in the Pacific Northwest is usually shipped for processing.

“We're hoping to start processing a small volume of milk by spring, and to be operational perhaps by summer,” Weintraub said in December, adding the milk bank is about $100,000 short of its overall $450,000 fundraising goal.

“We'll start with small batches of milk and we anticipate that will ramp up pretty quickly,” Mondeaux said, adding the bank will probably start out servicing local hospitals, but should be able to start shipping milk elsewhere shortly after.

The Northwest Mothers Milk Bank is among four organizations listed as a “developing or mentoring” milk bank on the website for the Human Milk Banking Association of North America – meaning they haven't opened yet but are raising funds to do so. The site lists 15 extant milk banks in North America.

Women who wish to donate breast milk undergo a health screening to ensure they don't have any diseases that could be transmitted such as HIV. After donation, the milk is tested for pathogens, and, if so, is discarded. After that, the milk is pasteurized, batched (each bottle of milk usually contains milk from between three and five different donors), then frozen and shipped back to hospitals.

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