Holding up a tiny pink crocheted cap, Patricia Clay-Jolly describes the warm feeling of giving newborn babies in need their first caps, onesie outfits and fuzzy baby blankets.
“The mothers are so surprised,” she said smiling as she recalled the expressions on new mothers’ faces at Parkland Hospital, where they find families most in need of newborn care packages. The idea, Clay-Jolly said, is to give new parents a positive start on the road to raising their children. “We really focus on warmth,” she said, adding that each kit is designed with the season in mind.
The need has grown in the years since she founded the organization as Newborns in Need in October 1999. Now, as Love Thy Babies, the organization has become part of Denton County’s Love They Neighbor 501(c)(3) organization which operates a community kitchen out of Lewisville’s Salvation Army headquarters at Main and Charles streets as well as a clothing assistance operation to help provide clothing to the homeless.
“It’s a perfect fit,” said Kay Stephenson, president of Love Thy Neighbor, of bringing the newly-renamed Love Thy Baby organization into the fold as of January. Clay-Jolly agreed: “We had been wanting to go local. … Being national was too widespread.”
Love Thy Baby brings volunteers together to create everything from fleece, quilted and crocheted blankets to tiny hand-stitched teddy bears for both full-term and premature infants. Each of the 36,531 pieces of clothing given to babies last year alone were hand-stitched, sewn and packaged by hundreds of volunteers throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth region. The items donated last year are valued at an estimated $184,983, records show. Donations in December broke records with a total of 8.936 items delivered.
The volunteers gather in workshops to sew quilts and clothes or knit baby caps and booties. Love Thy Baby volunteers also work with high school students and Girl Scout troops looking for projects as well as teach groups – women’s social clubs to senior centers to fraternities to businesses – how to knit and crochet both as a bonding experience and as a way to help them give back to their communities.
“We will teach anyone for free,” Clay-Jolly said.
Recently, employees at Berkley Specialty Underwriting Managers learned how to loom knit, creating more than 300 handmade hats – each designed to be slightly larger than a newborn’s head to allow new mother’s to roll up the edges initially and then roll them back out as the babies begin to grow. The caps are made with cotton yarns which also expand. Clay-Jolly adds that no wools are used to limit any potential allergy issue.
Baby blankets are also made large enough to stay with each infant until the age of 2, she said. The group uses monetary donations to buy fabrics and yarns at bargain prices through established relationships with retailers and other suppliers. They also accept fabric and yarn donations. While they must carefully select which items are used, any donations they can’t use are sent to other non-profit groups dedicated to helping those in need. “Nothing is thrown away,” Clay-Jolly said.
Volunteers gather at different locations but the largest workshop is at the Webb Chapel Church of Christ, which has offered space to the group who gather materials and equipment from a storage unit to take to the work space where hundreds gather for several hours before hauling everything back to storage. Other volunteers create items from home and bring them to the regular collection and pre-packaging gatherings on the first Saturday of every month.
Volunteers who don’t sew, stitch, crochet or knit are welcome to help prepare the baby kits, which must be pre-packaged for safety purposes and delivered to hospitals in the area.
“We legitimize the whole process of crocheting, knitting or sewing,” Clay-Jolly said. “There’s nothing more fun than making something for babies.
“It’s all about the babies.”