Arizona Needy Newborns, with chapters in Ahwatukee and Mesa, brought the holiday season in early as members and community guests joined together for the annual Christmas Stocking Stuffer last weekend.
They prepared more than scores of holiday stockings for distribution to various hospitals, clinics and homeless shelters throughout Maricopa County and the state.
Each stocking was lovingly prepared by the volunteers, who selected the contents from the tables of washcloths, soaps, blankets, nightgowns, hats and booties, bibs and toys, flannel positioning tools and other items that will be delivered by Dec. 15.
The event was both fun and successful for the volunteers of Arizona Needy Newborns, a year-round operation whose constant care many hospitals and agencies depend on to help newborns and premature infants – and prepare bereavement burial kits for the little ones who don’t make it.
Arizona Needy Newborns was organized approximately 20 years ago as a chapter of the national organization, Newborns in Need.
In 2017, in order to help enable their work to be more Arizona-centric, the chapter dissolved and was reborn as Arizona Needy Newborns.
The group comprises mainly women, many of whom have been a part of the organization for up to 20 years. They are a dedicated lot, putting their hands to the task of knitting, sewing or collecting items that can be assembled in Newborn Care Kits.
In October alone, more than 2,136 items were placed in kits and delivered to Maricopa Medical Center, Maricopa Compassionate Care, Summit Healthcare in Show Low, Chandler Dignity Healthcare, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, Chandler Pregnancy Care Center, Choices Pregnancy Center, Mount Vista Medical Center and North Carolina flood victims.
Even in the heat of summer, the organization collected and dispersed 3,809 items included in the deliveries.
Arizona Needy Newborns President Marilyn Freeman is one of the longest-tenured members. A member for more than 12 years, she has held the helm for the past nine years after serving as vice president and holding several other offices previously.
“I feel a child is a gift,” she said. “I saw a need, and I believe we have so much, and I think we can share our blessings with others.”
Freeman, who has struggled with multiple sclerosis for 32 years, is extraordinarily active despite her dependency now on a walker.
She often hosts mid-month gatherings at her home where other organizations like Boy Scout troops come to help assemble or donate items.
One local Boy Scout, Ethan Nicholas, recently donated 384 diapers and 40 quilts as part of his Eagle Scout project.
After the stuffing event, Freeman’s living room was arrayed with the various stockings and other items that were being organized, counted and labeled for the mid-December deliveries.
“I usually have everything done by the 15th of December, and then I decorate for Christmas after the deliveries are made,” she laughed, remarking she had out-of-town visitors expected. “That’s my motivation.”
She said vice president Marlene Omerza and member Carol Coleson of Florence come to help her every Friday.
“I mostly sit there and direct, and they act as my legs,” she said. “We couldn’t do this without everybody’s help.”
Omerza has been with ANN for 12 years and is a major quilt provider, often sewing 10 a month.
“We’re committed to helping babies,” said Doris Dorwart of Ahwatukee, who leads her local chapter and is ANN secretary. “It’s all volunteer and all out-of-pocket.”
Dorwart has been active in Arizona Needy Newborns – and before that Newborns in Need – for 12 years.
“We collect and give away nearly 3,000 items each month, placing them in 150 Newborn kits delivered to 25 hospitals and homeless shelters. All are for preemies or newborns,” she said. “Our monthly meetings are also fun events with a great group of women.”
Kathy Gemma of Ahwatukee joined the organization eight years ago and agrees the meetings are a joyful time.
“We have so many different women who come to our group, and everybody has their specialty,” she said. “Mine is making positioning snakes for premature babies.”
Premature infants especially require careful positioning, and her positioning snakes are 47 inches of flannel, sewn so that the tail tucks into the elasticized neck to make an “o” shape.
“They position the preemies inside the hole,” she said. Other positioning aids are smaller to place on the side of the infant. Both are filled with poly pellets and securely sewn.
Some members fashion burial outfits for boys and girls.
“Thankfully, we have fewer and fewer of these every year, but they’re still special for the parents to receive,” she said. “The ladies who make these use material from wedding dresses. I donated mine.”
She and her husband John, both retired, are passionate community volunteers. Besides ANN tasks, she also heads her church’s prayer shawls program, while he is active with Habitat for Humanity and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Arizona.
Even as the festive holiday stockings with their red caps and booties and red-ribboned diaper packages are heading out the door, there are always needs. Donations of items and money to purchase those needed are always appreciated, said Freeman.
Items in the newborn kits and other infant baskets are purchased by the members or received as donations.
Always needed are infant washcloths made of cotton yarn and bars of Ivory soap – one of each go into each newborn kit.
Quilts are always in demand; the most common size requested is 36 by 45 inches, though a recent request from Mercy Gilbert Medical Center asked for 48 by 52 inches.
“But we’ll be happy with all sizes,” said Dorwart.
ANN treasurer Barbara Johnson of Mesa said size-1 disposable diapers are always requested by hospitals, as are small afghans and tote bags.
Tiny white booties for “Memory Boxes” – presented to grieving parents of lost babies – are running low, as are nightgowns and sleepers. In the summer, “onesies” are included in newborn kits, but when winter arrives, nightgowns or full sleepers are packed in their stead.
Hospitals are known to phone ANN for special needs like a certain size quilt to cover incubators or small booties – approximately one to one and half inches from toe to heel.
At the monthly meetings in Ahwatukee and Mesa, women work together on various projects destined for the newborn kits.
Their knitting, crocheting and sewing is done at home and brought to the monthly meetings, where members show and discuss how they were made or where materials or special items were purchased.
Donations of yarn, even leftover skeins, are put to good use by members, said Dorwart.
A faithful member from Ahwatukee, Vivian Giumette recently passed away, and her family asked memorial donations be made to ANN. Last Christmas, Giumette embroidered more than 200 bibs in a snowman pattern. She also sewed tote bags for layette kits.
Dawn Loeffler, another faithful member who also crafted many items for newborns and premature infants, died last June and, like Guimette, asked that memorial donations be earmarked for ANN.
The Mesa ANN chapter meets at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1415 E. Southern Ave. the first Friday of each month, and the Ahwatukee chapter gathers at Esperanza Lutheran Church, 2601 E. Thunderhill Place on the third Friday (no December meeting).
“We meet at churches, but we aren’t a church group,” Freeman explained.
Both meetings start at 10 a.m. and conclude by noon.
For more information on ANN or either of their two chapters, email DDDorwart@hotmail.com and put ANN on the subject line.