Queens’ second community-based milk depot site opens in St. Albans, lactating women encouraged to donate their milk

Charline Ogbeni and community members celebrate the grand opening of her St. Albans milk depot

A community milk depot opened in St Albans earlier this week, the second milk depot to open in Queens where mothers are able to donate their milk for babies in need. 

Charline Ogbeni, the owner of Supporting Our Mothers Initiative, celebrated the grand opening of her establishment Monday after receiving a tissue license from the NYC Department of Health that provides clearance to store donor milk. The milk is donated by women to help mothers whose own milk supply is unavailable or insufficient. 

Ogbeni’s establishment, located at 177-19 120th Ave., works with the New York Milk Bank and stores milk at its St. Albans location.  Employees from the New York Milk Bank pick up the donor milk, which is then pasteurized and delivered to hospitals for premature babies in NICU units. The other milk depot in Queens is located at Jamaica Hospital.

Ogbeni’s own birthing experience inspired her to create her organization. After giving birth via emergency C-section, she was unable to breastfeed right away. Her struggle to find lactation support during her first few days postpartum prompted the start of the Supporting Our Mothers Initiative. 

By July of 2020, Ogbeni started her business and became a full spectrum doula and lactation consultant. “I literally had a dream and it kept recurring to me that you need to be the face of this in the community, because if you’re going through this imagine who else is,” she said.

Ogbeni hopes the new milk depot location will help to increase the breastfeeding duration rates for mothers and the number of babies who receive donor milk.

She emphasized that donated breast milk “literally saves lives” and that “one ounce of donated breast milk saves the life of 3 pre-term babies.” Breast milk, she noted, is particularly important for premature babies since it prevents the exposure of a potentially fatal intestinal infection called necrotizing enterocolitis.  In addition, for mothers who have pre-existing conditions or may be unable to excrete milk efficiently, having access to donor milk can greatly impact the health of newborns. 

To celebrate the achievement, Ogbeni was joined by representatives from the Queens Chambers of Commerce, the Department of Health and the New York Milk Bank. 

Nikkia Green, communications specialist with the New York Milk Bank, explained that the new community depot will also create an easily accessible donation location for local mothers in southeast Queens. The bank encourages mothers to donate their milk if possible.

“We’re always looking for milk donors. If you’re a lactating mother and you’re healthy and have 100 ounces of milk, you can donate it. It goes to a very good cause. There is literally nothing that can replicate breast milk…so we’re always working to get as much as we possibly can,” she said.

Green explained that if more milk depots continue to open, it could potentially lower out of pocket expenses for mothers looking to access donor milk. 

Outside of the Supporting Our Mothers Initiative, Ogbeni works on the lactation team with the Department of Health’s New Family Home Visiting Initiative. The team of public health advisors, nurses, and lactation consultants created a task force to work within TRIE neighborhoods, which are neighborhoods that the city has targeted to bring additional support to new families. 

Erin Guerriero, supervisor of the lactation team, praised Ogbeni for her skills as a lactation consultant, and emphasized the importance in opening the depot in St. Albans, which is a designated TRIE neighborhood. “I think it brings awareness around lactation and lactation support…and it’s accessible, if you’re a mom that has already established your milk supply and you want to support other moms who can’t provide milk to their babies yet,” she said.

Towards the end of the celebration, Ogbeni gave a special thanks to the milk depot’s first donor, Jessica Bueno, for her contribution of 298 ounces of milk.  “We are so thankful to her and her journey and for sharing that with other families,” she said.

The ceremony concluded with a ribbon cutting to commemorate the event. 

Jessica Bueno, the milk depots first donor, celebrates with her daughter Ayelet Duran and husband Francisco Duran Credit :Athena Dawson