OKLAHOMA CITY — When nearly 500 Oklahoma Air and Army National Guardsmen answered the call to provide emergency relief to individuals impacted by Hurricane Ida, one Airman saw the opportunity to give back while breastfeeding.
Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Macey Winegarner, a Mustang, Oklahoma resident heard about the disaster relief mission and felt compelled to volunteer and serve.
“I’ve deployed and have done several temporary duty assignments,” Winegarner said. “I’ve never been able to help during a state of emergency. The people of Louisiana needed help, and I wasn’t going to let my breastfeeding needs hold me back.”
Oklahoma Guardsmen who were activated in support of Hurricane Ida distributed food, water and basic supplies through points of distribution across Louisiana areas impacted by the storm.
When Winegarner got to her designated POD site, she scheduled her pumping sessions further apart, still pumping about 30 ounces a day.
The airman, an air transportation non-commission officer with the 137th Special Operations Wing, didn't have ways to store the milk long term while she was helping Louisianans recover after Hurricane Ida, so she had to find another way to keep it — or she'd have to dump it.
“I couldn’t bear the idea of dumping perfectly good breast milk,” Winegarner said. “That’s when I had the idea to donate.”
Winegarner took to Facebook and found a network group that connects breast milk donors to mothers in need of supply. Mothers affected by Hurricane Ida quickly responded to her post.
“A grandmother found my post on Facebook and messaged me wanting to pick up my breast milk for her two-month-old granddaughter,” Winegarner said.
The mother, affected by Hurricane Ida, had experienced a milk reduction and wasn't able to produce enough, and her child was accustomed to breast milk.
“She has had a hard time digesting formula,” said Allayah LeBlanc, the baby’s mother. “We really appreciate (Winegarner) and cannot thank her enough for her donation.”
With the help of her senior leaders, Winegarner was able to schedule two pickups between missions.
“My leadership was very helpful,” she said. “When we moved locations, they checked to ensure my cooler had ice and helped coordinate and arrange the location of pick up.”
In total, Winegarner gave away nearly 120 fluid ounces of her breast milk.
“It was nice to help under the given circumstances,” said Tech. Sgt. Chris Howell. “She went above and beyond and filled a need where normally no one would be able to help.”
Winegarner said she hopes her story will empower others to step outside of their comfort zone.
“The mission wasn’t about me or my needs,” Winegarner said. “I hope the example I’ve set empowers mothers to step up and fulfill the need in any and all circumstances.”
National Guardsmen and women have since returned to their home stations after providing much-needed aid to 77,000 families during the Hurricane Ida relief response.