(Editor’s note: This article is edited from submissions from Coulee Medical Center Director of Customer Relations Parkes Tanner and SaDonna Heathman)
Ten years ago, a young mother’s concern for others launched a local tradition: gift baskets for newborns to help parents with the supplies they need to care for their new babies.
When the nation was rocked with terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, SaDonna Heathman was in her Hartline home caring for her first child, Ava. As the effects of terrorism began to rekindle the American spirit to a stronger sense of unity, support, and service, Heathman discovered a way to help newborns and mothers in the coulee area.
Ten years on, 774 babies have been born at Coulee Medical Center. Most of them received a newborn gift bag when they entered this world.
That’s something Heathman sees as a worthwhile lesson for her own children.
“I want to instill in my children the belief that they alone have the power to change the world around them for the better,” she said. “Giving them them opportunity to work alongside me in buying and packaging the gift bags could only help with cultivating in them a heart for community outreach.”
In 2001, Heathman knew from her experience how important it was to have a supply of blankets, sleeping gowns, socks, hats, and burp cloths. She also knew that not every mother had a support system like she had, and yet would need all of those same items.
In December 2001, she started contacting friends, families, businesses, and churches. To everyone she made the same requests -- to help by making handmade blankets or quilts, or by making donations so she could buy new baby supplies from the stores.
She partnered with Coulee Medical Foundation, then a nonprofit fund-raising entity for the hospital. The president of the foundation, Maryann Winn, helped her form the Newborn Fund.
With the foundation as a sponsor, Heathman got a $1,000 grant through Walmart. The community responses started pouring in, which resulted in the procurement and assembly of items for more than 30 newborn gift bags. A month later, the newborn gift bags had become a reality.
For the next seven years Heathman continued to prepare and supply the hospital with newborn gift bags. By 2008 Heathman needed to devote more time to her own family, which had grown by two, Garrett and Zane, so she needed help to carry on the Newborn Fund, and she got it.
Hannah Wheeler, the hospital obstetrics manager, continued the tradition. She and other nurses used the remaining bags, as well as new donations that came in, to provide for the newborns.
In 2010 Patty Taylor joined the newly named Coulee Medical Center Guild and offered to help produce the newborn gift bags after hearing of the need from Lois Chilton, the hospital liaison to the guild. Patty also enlisted the help of her mother, Jean Nicholson, Dorothy Clark, and Sharon Kimberly.
Tom and Elizabeth Poplawski serve as lay ministers in the United Methodist Church in Grand Coulee. Every year the members have selected as one of their 12 monthly missions to support the community through the newborn gift bags. Even though most of the members are retired, they use their craft skills and their monetary contributions to help out.
“They see the importance of helping newborns like their own grandkids, and offer prayers for all the babies who will receive their contributions!” Elizabeth Poplawski stated.
Georgina Friedlander is the mother of five children. The last four were born at Coulee Medical Center and each one received a newborn gift bag, including Aiden, born on Dec. 7, 2011. Georgina was very appreciative of all the care received, and for the helpful items given to her.
In order to continue the tradition, the Newborn Fund welcomes participation through donations of handmade blankets, quilts, hats, socks and burp cloths, as well as donations for the procurement of new clothing for the gift bags.
“The birth of Garrett and Zane reminded me that, while my children may be growing up, there are newborns who will continue to need the items in these gift bags,” Heathman said. “I am excited for their involvement in the fund, and I can’t think of a better way to teach them than through an organization that was solely created because they first blessed my life.”
To be a part of the organization, call Heathman at (509) 639-2339 or Patty Taylor at (509) 633-0405.