Members of the Assistance League of Northern Virginia created a make-shift assembly line Monday, Dec. 6, at the Chantilly Public Library to compile baby necessities for mothers in need at the Inova Fairfax Hospital OB/GYN clinic.
"We don't have anyone over the income level and we don't help people who have health care," said Nancy Gordon, social worker with Inova Fairfax Hospital's pediatric center and OB/GYN clinic. "I would say about 80-percent of the people we see are without health care."
Because the clinic helps less fortunate mothers, Gordon said they have seen women who come in for the post-delivery check up with their infants wrapped in towels because they have no blanket or even t-shirts for the baby to wear.
"Most of the people receiving these [layette bundles] are women who have very little resources," said Joan Walsh, vice president of fundraising and charter member of Assistance League of Northern Virginia, about the immigrant status of some of the women at the clinic.
"They have no access to assistance that people of the U.S. have everyday," she said about the lack of health care and financial security.
In an effort to help, the Assistance League — a non-profit, philanthropic organization dedicated to promoting the well-being, self-esteem and education of at-risk youth and adults living in the Northern Virginia communities — created their Operations Hugs program.
Walsh, an originator of the program, said at its inception five years ago, the program could not afford to purchase the contents of the bundles and had to focus on other areas of the program.
But, now that the group has become an official chapter of the national Assistance League, they have more funds to designate for the layette bundle portion of Operation Hugs.
"It's pretty exciting, I feel pretty proud to have been involved in this," said Walsh.
AS OF JUNE 2004, Inova Fairfax Hospital had delivered 5,451 infants.
Of those, 1,300 were deliveries by women in the hospital's clinic who were not covered by insurance, making up about 24-percent of the infants born.
At the end of July, the clinic reported the majority of people it serviced — 652 patients of the 1,704 — were 100 percent eligible for discounted Medicaid assistance.
"If we don't have diapers or don't have clothes to give them it's sad to tell them no," said Gordon of mothers who will ask for help after delivery.
In 2002, the clinic recorded 2,672 deliveries of women who do not have the financial means to provide the same food, clothing and parenting for their newborns that mothers with health care coverage do.
"We have women in the pediatric clinic who will come in with their baby in a towel because they don't have a blanket," said Gordon, adding she hasn't seen that recently, but it happens from time to time. "I guess that's better than nothing."
As a part of Operation Hugs, members of the Assistance League have begun knitting hats, booties, jackets and blankets to include in a bundle to be given to these low income mothers at the clinic after delivery.
In the bundles, or layettes, mothers will receive 12 infant diapers, one bottle, one pacifier, one onesie, jacket, hat, booties, one gown, two receiving blankets and parenting information.
Walsh said part of the goods are purchased by the organization, such as the bottles and pacifiers, and other things, like the hat, booties, blankets and jackets, are knit by the members who then make in-kind donations.
"Just for them to even have something to come home from the hospital with is an accomplishment," said Walsh of the importance of the group's work. "It's sad that in such an affluent community that there are people that have nothing."
In addition to the baby necessities, Walsh said the group also included brochures, in English and Spanish, that discuss proper parenting techniques dealing with sleep and testing a child's hearing.
"We know then that at least the baby has some warm, clean clothes to go home in," said Gordon of the women's work to help her patients. "A lot of times, they make due with what they have."
Gordon said although they have had groups that have donated blankets and booties in the past, that was usually only around the holidays.
"We've never had anything that's ongoing like this that we can depend on," she said.
ALTHOUGH THIS is the first year the group has donated to the clinic, president Cindy Burgess said the goal is to distribute 400 bundles this year — hopefully working up to much more.
Although the group was only able to make about 50 layettes at its first workshop because it ran out of blankets, Grace Alderman, chairman of Operation Hugs, said members hope to deliver what they have to the clinic before the holidays.
"Hopefully, they won't be on the shelf that long and we'll be making another delivery," she said.
Once the group replenishes supplies, it will meet Jan. 10 at 9:30 a.m.. for another assembly line session at McLaren Storage in Herndon, where the owner donated two storage spaces for them to store their various supplies.
Those interested in donating blankets, knitting supplies or other goods to the Assistance League, or membership information can contact league president Cindy Burgess at 703-787-8454 or vice president for membership Debbie Kiessling at 703-758-1085, or on-line at www.assistanceleague.org.