SAN DIEGO — You've probably seen one. A collection bin asking for gently used baby materials scattered throughout the county. In this Zevely Zone, I followed your donations to Ranch Bernardo to meet the busy hands volunteering their time at the non-profit organization Gently Hugged. Located on the property of the Bernardo Winery, the small building is a lot like Santa's Workshop because the pace is punishing. "I'm off bye!" says one volunteer racing out the door with two bags in her hands. Everyone is smiling so I approach one of the busy little elves to ask which one is the nicest. "How can I say that? Maybe Judy over there," laughs Jan Rightmer, one of the volunteers.
Eight years ago, beautiful bags, filled with baby goods started showing up at hospitals and shelters. "How many bags are we talking about?" I ask. To which Roger Schlarb responds, "I would guess 3,821. As of the 7 I am picking up today."
And there they go, right out to a Prius that doubles as sled. "These are on their way to Sharp Chula Vista," says Roger. "How many people are getting paid here?" I ask. "Zero. We have no paid employees," says Judy Blackford. She was public health nurse who noticed mothers in need, needed help. "They think no one cares. They feel isolated," says Judy.
The completed boxes are then distributed by nurses and social workers to low income, military, immigrant, and foster families in need within under served areas. Hospitals, prenatal clinics, social service agencies, and homes are typical delivery sites.
Volunteers like Shelly Hoffman never meet the mothers. "But I know I am paying it forward in some way that somebody who is in need of something is getting something," says Hoffman. Most parents own some baby clothes that could take another trip around the block. "You know babies are special and babies in need are really special so if we can do a little bit of laundry every week it's no big deal," says Jewell Libby.
Thank you cards line the walls. "They take the pieces out one by one and they cry every time," says Judy. "It's hugely rewarding." The donations may be Gently Hugged, but loving arms like these have the strength of of Saint Nick.
Gently Hugged has ninety volunteers. If you're interested in helping or want more information, go to their website.