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Clothing and Hope

How could it be that 30-50 percent of the babies delivered in Nashville hospitals are born into poverty?

I was flabbergasted to learn that on average more than 6,000 of the approximate 14,650 babies born in Nashville each year are considered the hospital social workers to be in need.

At the same time, I marveled at how one mother, Lena Levendoski, transformed the heartbreak and pain she experienced with the inexplicable death of her unborn son Strick into a force for the good, helping other babies who make it into the world safely but are considered needy.

Levendoski’s nonprofit Strick’s Gift collects infant clothes to give to some of these needy newborns as a way to offer families hope and to keep the memory of her son alive. Her story moved me to do something to help.

How many babies are in need?

According to social workers at the four Nashville hospitals that deliver babies, thousands of babies are born in need every year.

At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where about 4,700 babies are born each year, as many as 50 percent are considered needy.

At TriStar Centennial Medical Center, 40-50 percent of the 3,500- 3,600 babies born are considered to be in need.

At Nashville General Hospital at Meharry, 45-50 percent of the 350 babies born each year are uninsured or underinsured and considered in need.

At St. Thomas Midtown, where about 6,000 babies are born annually, an estimated 30 percent are considered in need of assistance.

‘For me, this is a calling’

When Lena and Geoff Levendoski’s baby Strick died two weeks before his due date in 2007, they were devastated. The Nashville couple turned their anguish and grief into the nonprofit that provides clothing and blankets to newborns in need.

“The bags are gifts for needy babies who have made it into the world, helping them and their families celebrate their first year with joy, all in memory of Strick,” Lena Levendoski said.

Strick’s Gift’s mission is to fill gift bags with new and gently used clothing for newborn to 12-month-old babies that social workers and nurses give to families with newborns in need.

Lena Levendoski has filled more than 2,200 Strick’s Gift bags with nearly 80,000 pieces of clothing since she started in 2008.

“I do not put anything in the bag that I would not put on my own children,” Lena Levendoski said.

“I know that the impact is just a drop in the bucket, but it is something. And I needed to do something,” she said. “For me, this is a calling.”


Bags offer clothes and hope

Levendoskiworks through hospital social workers, who assess patients’ needs and distribute the available bags accordingly.

“We tend to give most of the bags to families that fall below the poverty line, are unemployed/low-income, or have no support system,” said Carly Powers, NICU and Women’s Health Social Worker at TriStar Centennial. “Most of the mothers are so grateful for the help.”

Amber Dillehay, a social worker at Vanderbilt said, “I had a patient a few weeks ago who was struggling financially, got evicted from her apartment so (she) was living in her car for a while. She just beamed when she opened the bag and we put one of Lena’s outfits on the baby to go home in.

“Lena’s organization is definitely something we are grateful for here at Vanderbilt as it helps serve the needs of our families,” Dillehay said.

“I truly believe that some of these moms feel helpless, and when someone shows them a kind gesture it gives them hope,” Powers said. “Strick’s Gift provides items that fulfill a basic need for these children. Without your basic needs being met, you cannot succeed. Sometimes, the smallest gestures can be a catalyst for change, and in my option Strick’s Gift often is just that.“ Nicole Wills, a social worker at St. Thomas Midtown, said the “bags from Lena are truly a blessing to this hospital and the baby’s that receive them.

“It is always pretty neat for me to see the families I have given a bag to on their discharge day with the baby in an outfit that I recognize from the gift bag. Also when the hospital baby pictures are taken and the family is able to use clothes from their gift bag.”

What do the gifts bags include

Each bag is filled with a baby blanket, many of which are made by women in the knitting club at Levendoski’s church, Westminster Presbyterian Church, and 30-40 pieces of baby clothing.

“We wrap the clothes and other items in baby blue tissue and place them in bags with the Strick’s Gift logo on the outside. We want it to feel like a gift, not a handout,” Levendoski said.

“It’s not everything you need for a baby’s first year, but it’s a start.”

Marecha Jackson, director of nursing education at Nashville General Hospital at Meharry, said, “We have had some (moms) who have had to dress their baby from the bag.”

Jackson said in cases where the baby is going home with foster parents, grandparents or in a temporary placement, the clothing and other items are particularly appreciated.

Small operation

Lena Levendoski works out of her basement and gets a lot of help and encouragement from her husband and their children, 10-year-old Henry and 8year-old Parker. Volunteers, including friends, church members and students from St. Cecilia Academy, St. Bernard Academy and other schools, help her fold the clothing, and pack the bags.

“One thing that is really great about it is that it gives people an opportunity to give back,” said Levendoski. “I feel like Strick’s Gift is a bridge — you’ve got a lot of people over here who have so much and a lot of people on the other side who don’t have anything and this can bring them together.”

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