September is NICU awareness month, a time to honor families in the neonatal intensive care unit and those who serve them.
One Abbeville non-profit is helping those families by recycling donated clothing and fabrics and creating gowns for NICU babies.
“They wanted to have a special little outfit for each one of the babies to wear, so on Halloween day the babies will be dressed in 101 Dalmatian fabrics, which I thought was really a cute idea,” laughed Phyllis Berberich, the founder of Steps to Heaven.
When she retired as a school teacher three years ago, she knew she wanted to continue giving back.
“Children have always been a special place in my heart,” she said.
So in 2015, she brushed up on her sewing skills and created Steps to Heaven, an organization that makes gowns for babies in the NICU, as well as for those who pass away.
“I never imagined when this all started how wonderful this would be,” said Berberich with a smile. “Moms who have seen our presentation have come back to me and said ‘I lost a baby 20, 25, 33 years ago, I just wish I would’ve had something like that back then.”
The organization now has several volunteers who help rip the donated fabrics to make blankets, caps and gowns for babies born in the NICU.
One donated wedding dress can make up to 20 gowns.
“When you have a baby that is born that’s two or three pounds or even six or seven pounds, there’s not always something available in a store, a retail facility, to go out and buy something plus you’re not always in the mental state of mind,” said Berberich, who also volunteers at a local hospital as a ‘baby cuddler‘ in the NICU.
When the seamstress makes the burial gown, they also make a pillow that matches the pattern and fabric of the gown or blanket they’re buried in.
They also offer stone angels that are from Jerusalem. The center heart of the angel is removed and buried with the child. The parents are able to keep the angel with them as a keepsake.
Berberich said, sometimes those who donate materials receive just as much in return as those who get a gown.
“I had a man contact me who had lost his wife recently and just wanted to do something with her items and knew that was going to be a special cause that she would’ve wanted to get involved with,” she said.
Although it can sometimes be difficult to sew gowns for babies to be buried in, Berberich said working closely with NICU babies and their families helps her remember the importance of her mission.
“Last week there was a boy who went home, and he was born 2 pounds 8 ounces and he was at the hospital for quite some time and I hear those stories then…I can’t imagine how difficult that is but just being able to provide a service for a family that is in crisis who needs a special outfit is what makes it right for me,” she said.
Steps to Heaven fortunately has an abundance of wedding dresses at this time. But if you’d like to help, you can donate cotton and flannel fabrics, or if you have basic sewing knowledge they are in need of volunteer seamstresses. You can message them about your fabrics or skills on their Facebook page here.