Mothers’ Milk Bank Denver Visit

After meeting Miz, I  was connected via WhatsApp with a social enterprise in Denver – Mothers’ Milk Bank run by the Rocky Mountains Children’s Health Foundation – Natalie Shenkerco-founder of Hearts Milk Bank. The Hearts Donate to Mothers' Milk Bank DenverMilk Bank is one of the ventures supported by Cambridge Social Ventures.

Before meeting Natalie, I did not know what a milk bank was. In essence it stores, processes and provides human milk for two main purposes: babies who need milk and for research. The milk is often purchased by hospitals for babies in incubators because they have been born prematurely.
When Natalie learnt I was in Denver she shared that they had just twinned with a milk bank in Denver – Mothers’ Milk Bank. Natalie’s co-founder, Gillian Weaver, promotes milk bank twinning and had set this up at a recent conference. I had not met Gillian nor had I even had a chance to visit Natalie in her new premises. Natalie and I thought it was crazy that I would visit someone else’s milk bank first after we had spent ages talking about her milk bank.

This poster from Mothers’ Milk Bank shows how they work
Mothers Milk Bank Process

The Hearts Milk Bank has been achieving a lot in its first year but is greatly inspired by Mothers’ Milk Bank which has been running for over 40 years. This Denver based organisation has provided milk to hospitals in 50 states, last year they they shipped out 22,000 litres of milk.

Running milk banks is a very technical business and is not only done by social enterprises and non-profits. Some private companies compete with Mother’s Milk Bank for hospital contracts. However, the organisation is ISO certified and can track and trace every ounce of milk received and donated. Suddenly I understood why Natalie had been so pleased to get ISBT 128 registration allowing Hearts Milk Bank to use bar codes for tracking.

Disney named freezers

One of the features about milk banks is that they need a lot of freezers. In addition to a walk-in freezer, Mothers’ Milk Bank has five more freezers which they have named after Disney characters. No one could explain the reasons behind the choice of names except that the first was Papa Bear. These are the freezers running down the left hand side of the page. Maybe Natalie and Gillian will start naming their freezers too?

Twinning photo

The team at the milk bank were delighted to meet me and generous with their time showing me around the facility. We had an impromptu photo shoot with the a quickly drawn up twinning sign which I dictated. From left to right the photo shows:Milk Bank Twinning

  • Laraine Lockhart Borman, IBCLC (Directo of Outreach – Mothers’ Milk Bank)
  • Sarah Shepard (Communications Coordinator)
  • Socentraveller (Me)
  • Christine Patoff (Director of Communications & PR)

The Stink Bug Project

Finally, one of the other projects that the Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation runs is called The Stink Bug Project. This project provides companion dogs for children suffering from severe illnesses and was created by Allison when her companion dog, Coco, made such a difference to her during treatment for a brain tumour. One of the additionally great aspects of this programme is that it is linked to the Prison-Trained K-9 Program at Colorado Correctional Industries. The program allows offenders to learn new skills, improve self-esteem, and earn a salary that is based on their work performance. Inmates from the PTKCP are eligible to earn vocational certification in Canine Behavior Modification. The programme also saves rescue dogs in the process.

Support Hearts Milk Bank

One of the aspects of the Hearts Milk Bank that Laraine and Christine were interested in were their use of motor bike riders to collect and deliver milk. The team in the UK say this about these volunteers on their website: “At the moment, the SERV Herts and Beds riders keep the Hearts Milk Bank going by picking up and delivering donated milk, alongside their vital work couriering blood products. They are simply wonderful volunteers, who drop everything to help out for nothing more than a cup of tea and a biscuit. However, if we increase our workload any more, we will place an unreasonable burden on these wonderful bikers.”Donate to Hearts Milk Bank

As a result of the Hearts Milk Bank growth, they have fund raised for a Milk Mobile to take some pressure off the bikers and are collecting donations for other projects to grow the organisation. To donate to the Hearts Milk Fund or find out more about supporting them click here or on the Milk Mobile image.