Dianne Ross/AFN Contributor

What’s in a name? For the newly-renamed Arizona Needy Newborns (ANN), it’s a whole lot of love for infants they’ve never met.

The former Ahwatukee and Mesa chapters of Newborns in Need have disaffiliated from the national NIN to form a more Arizona-centric organization with many of the same goals.

“We have pretty much the same focus, its just more of a local group now,” said Marilyn Freeman, president of NIN – and now ANN – for the past eight years of her 18-year involvement.

Long-term commitments are customary among the members, who hold monthly meetings in Ahwatukee and Mesa. They often gather at Freeman’s Mesa home for in-between work sessions.

Her residence – near the Mesa Mormon Temple, where Mesa’s monthly meetings are held – is often occupied by other groups, including Girl Scout troops, Boy Scouts working toward Eagle Badge status and other youth groups volunteering to assist with ANN’s ongoing projects.

Ahwatukee’s meetings are held at Esperanza Lutheran Church on Thunderhill Place.  

“We meet at churches but we aren’t a church group,” Freeman explained.

On Saturday, July 29, ANN hosts its sixth annual “Christmas in July” working session with the public encouraged to attend.

Held at their Mesa meeting place at 1415 E. Southern Avenue, the session begins at 10 a.m. and continues till noon.

It’s a day where the spirit of the holidays arrives early as members and guests stuff 200 tiny Christmas stockings with polyester batting, then sew them closed.

The toys are destined for inclusion in the Christmas Newborn Kits donated to families of infants in hospitals and medical centers throughout the county, and other facilities like A New Leaf and Helen’s Hope Chest, both in Mesa.

The day also includes opportunities for guests to crochet edges of fleece blankets, and work on quilts.

Donations of cash and yarns are also needed.

The group that has labored to help infants for nearly two decades works on a shoestring budget. Members donated 2,995 items in May to be included in Newborn Kits, NICU layettes and burial layettes.

The kits contain items like washcloths, Ivory soap bars, newborn-size disposable diapers, sleepers and other baby items.

With an average of 150 Newborn Kits assembled monthly, volunteer time and funds are always needed.

And it’s a Herculean task for a membership that includes those who’ve committed to help this cause for years. There are many who’ve been a part of this community-oriented group for 10 years and more.

Vivian Giumette of Ahwatukee remembers how many years ago she’s been involved. All she needs to do is look at her only grandson, Carter.

“I’ve been a member of this group for almost 15 years.  My grandson was a 2 lb. 3 oz. preemie and while he was at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, I learned about this wonderful group,” she said.

Giumette is currently embroidering 200 Christmas bibs with a Country Snowman pattern, using six colors on red fabric edged in white trim.

In addition, she is responsible for the preemie sets – diaper shirts and bibs, that are distributed monthly – and also sews tote bags used for layette kits.

It was Shirleen Daniels of Mesa who influenced Freeman to join the group when she happened upon Daniels sewing a NIN project. Daniels has been a member for 19 years and served as president before Freeman.

ANN secretary Doris Dorwart of Ahwatukee has headed up the Ahwatukee group for eight of her 10 years with the organization.

“It’s taken a lot of involvement and hard work,” she admitted. “The hospitals tell us what they want, while the health clinics take whatever we can give.”

She said the two-inch Christmas stockings being stuffed and sewn at Christmas in July are purchased at after-Christmas sales.

Current ANN vice-president, Marlene Omerza of Mesa, has been involved a decade as well, and is a major quilts provider, often making 10 a month.

Donations of yarn, even odd leftover skeins, are used by ANN members for crocheted washcloths, fleece blanket trims, or tiny infant hats and booties.

Every month, members personally deliver Newborn Kits to various hospitals that include Maricopa Medical Center, Banner Casa Grande Medical Center, Summit Health Care Regional Center in Show Low, St. Luke’s Hospital in Tempe, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, St. Joseph Hospital NICU, Barrow Neurological Center, Hopi Healthcare, Maricope Compassionate Care and others.

Becky Bell, coordinator of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Developmental Program at Maricopa Integrated Health System in Phoenix, said the Newborn Kits provided by ANN are appreciated by staff and parents of newborns.

“Each day, Maricopa Integrated Health System’s NICU provides medical care for babies from all walks of life,” she said.

“No parent is prepared for his or her baby to be born critically ill. It’s a very scary and traumatic time in their lives; many of these babies are born weeks or even months premature,” she added, stating:

“Arizona Needy Newborns provides Newborn Kits for all of our NICU families. These kits contain essential baby care items that the families need at home after their baby is discharged.”

She explained that many parents spend months at her hospital while their infants recover, making it difficult to prepare their home for the baby’s discharge difficult.

“By providing clothing, diapers, and other necessary home supplies ANN’s generosity brings comfort to families during one of the most difficult periods in their lives. ANN’s long standing relationship with MIHS has positively impacted the lives of thousands of infants and their families,” Bell said.

“I think we provide a need of service to the community,” said Freeman, modestly. “And, we really have fun.”

 On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, ANN members gather for their Stocking Stuffing Event, where members and volunteers pack the month’s Newborn Kits in handmade, extra-large Christmas stockings used in lieu of the usual plastic bins and other containers.

This is where Giumette’s embroidered bibs are distributed along with crocheted red, white and green washcloths and the tiny stuffed Christmas stocking made at Christmas in July.  Some kits are also done in blue and white to mark Hanukkah.

For more information or to sign up for ANN’s online monthly newsletters, contact Doris Dorwart at dddorwart@hotmail.com. Dorwart asks ANN be used in subject line.

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