Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin is transforming a warehouse off Airport Boulevard into its new location, expected to open at the end of March. The site will allow the bank to double its production in the next two years.
Last week the bank gave hard-hat tours of the new 29,000-square-foot building at 5925 Dillard Circle, which was previously Trinity Hardwood. The bank will occupy about 15,000 square feet of that space and lease out the other 14,000 square feet.
The new site will include a research lab to help the bank develop more targeted breast milk for the littlest babies and three other milk processing labs. It will have four walk-in freezers, replacing the 22 standard freezers it’s currently using. It also offers workstations for the bank’s 16 full-time employees, with space for another 11 workstations, and a board room.
The location will allow the bank to become a community center for education about lactation and family support. It will also have a lactation room and a children’s playroom.
Jeanne Anne Pratt and Bryan Martin and their three children toured the site last week. All three children received donor milk as babies because of failure to thrive or being born early. “We tried everything,” Pratt said, especially for son, Davis, 7, who needed milk that was high in fat, which she wasn’t producing. “They gave us so much,” Pratt said of the bank. “Even when there wasn’t enough milk to go around, if they had to get it from Indiana, we still got it.”
The new location will be the bank’s fourth location since it opened 17 years ago. The first two were 900 square feet and then 1,500 square feet in an office building next to St. David’s Medical Center. The third site, which the bank has been in since 2010, is 4,200 square feet at Medical Arts Street.
At its first three sites, the milk bank had its lease donated by St. David’s. At this new site, Mothers’ Milk Bank will take on a mortgage and $2.9 million in construction costs, of which it has raised about half.
“We’re counting on the community to rise up and say this matters to Austin, to Texas, to the United States,” said Kim Updegrove, executive director of the bank.
The goal for this new site is to make more donor milk accessible to the infants who need it as well as make giving milk more accessible to donors. Last year, the bank reached a milestone with more than 1,000 donors. They donated more than 600,000 ounces, which benefited more than 7,000 babies.
“We do this because they do this,” Updegrove said. “It’s an exhausting year of their life. They take care of their own family, and they pump a little extra to give to the milk bank.”
About 75 percent of donors are from Texas, but the bank has donors from as far away as Hawaii who ship their milk to Austin. The bank serves 160 hospitals in 22 states as well as about 60 infants who are no longer in a hospital setting but get a prescription for milk.
Kari Anne Roy’s son, Isaac, who is 8, was born three months early and had to have a tracheotomy when he was 6 months old. He couldn’t digest formula or regular food. He had donor milk until he was 2. “It was the only thing he could tolerate,” she says. Even after Medicaid stopped paying for it, the milk bank through its charitable care program made sure they still got it. “No one ever gets turned away,” Roy said.
The bank plans to increase the number of donors with a site that is close to a train stop and a bus stop and across from the Austin Community College at what was Highland Mall.
Libby Gimpel, who was at the hard-hat tour, said she is grateful to the donors who helped her son, Xzavier Caraballo. He’s 4 now, but when he was born at 29 weeks and spent 64 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. David’s, she wasn’t able to make enough milk for him, and he wasn’t able to digest formula.
She wishes she had known about Mothers’ Milk Bank when she had her older son and had extra milk. She now encourages her friends who are nursing to pump extra. “Babies really need this,” she says. “They don’t call breast milk liquid gold for no good reason.”
Find out more about Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin at milkbank.org.