The work we do as lactation advocates is big. Bigger than any individual. And so is the legacy we leave behind.
Amy Avelar’s legacy is the Ventura Coast Milk Bank Depot @ WIC, which opened last month in Ventura County.
The depot is the first major step in establishing a nonprofit milk bank in Ventura County, and the road to now has been a long one.
A WIC breastfeeding coordinator, regional breastfeeding liaison, and board chair of the local breastfeeding coalition, Amy died of cancer in 2022. Though she didn’t live to see the depot open for business, it was her vision and advocacy that made it possible.
According to Heather Camarena, Ventura County WIC breastfeeding coordinator, Amy is the one who championed for the necessary space at a central WIC site and supported Ventura Coast Milk Bank founders with the requirements to establish a depot at WIC.
To get here, co-founders Emily Ostrowski and Sally Torrens needed to first establish the milk bank as a nonprofit entity. Then they needed a partnering HMBANA-accredited milk bank, which they found in the UC Health Milk Bank in San Diego. In addition, close collaboration with the Ventura County WIC Program and Breastfeeding Coalition of Ventura County all supported the success of this initiative.
A milk depot is a collection site for donated human milk. At the Ventura Coast Milk Depot, donated milk is held in a deep freezer at the site until it’s shipped to UC Health’s Milk Bank for testing, pasteurization, and distribution. No corners are cut. All donors are required to go through the UC Health Milk Bank’s screening process to get approved. Milk bank staff guide donors through the process and cover the costs of any required tests. Once approved, the donor receives a donor number that allows the milk depot to accept the milk they drop off.
While the depot is located at a WIC site, donors and donations are not associated with WIC participation. WIC was an ideal location because of their mission to support breastfeeding and access to breast milk for all. WIC also has lactation and nutrition experts on staff. As part of the Ventura County Public Health Department, this WIC site has the infrastructure needed for a safe and accessible location.
“The benefits of human milk for babies are irrefutable,” Camarena said. “Establishing a milk depot promotes the benefits of human milk, increases the much-needed availability of safe, pasteurized donor human milk for babies in need and provides a convenient, local location for families to safely donate their surplus milk.”
The approval process for a milk depot is lengthy. In addition to establishing a nonprofit and finding a partnering HMBANA-accredited milk bank, founders must secure a location for the depot and a tissue license for regulatory compliance. Additionally, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was created between VC Milk Bank and the Ventura County WIC Program to outline the scope of work for each party. This also serves as a tool to communicate the responsibilities with parent agencies and interested parties.
To find out more about the milk bank and depot, visit www.vcmilkbank.org