Helping others with special deliveries for Berkshire babies––and moms
Photos by Megan Haley
Hinda Bodinger was upset over the divisive rhetoric that consumed the election. When politicians demanded America close the borders to Syrian refugees, ban Muslims, and deport Mexicans, she thought, This is not my America. Her Mexican friends feared expulsion, and in our farm-to-table community, the migrant workers near her Egremont home couldn’t afford to buy the crops they grew. “Life is wonderful in the Berkshires,” Bodinger points out, “but not for everyone.”
She wanted to show that they were welcome. But how? One morning, she woke with a fully formed plan to help low-income families with new babies, and she set about making it happen. “Wish it, dream it, do it,” Bodinger says. And she is not alone. Rosalie Girard of Cheshire and Dr. Marie Rudden of West Stockbridge also saw a great need for our most vulnerable—understandable as 20 percent of Berkshire children under five live in poverty. These women realized the challenge low-income families face and were courageous enough to ask, “If not me, then who?”
Berkshire Baby Box
In 2013, Bodinger read about how Finland gives every new mother a cardboard box—a “starter kit” of blankets, onesies, and many infant necessities. It also has a mattress and doubles as a baby’s first bed. Since the government introduced the boxes in 1938, Finland went from having one of the highest infant mortality rates to one of the lowest.
Last January, Bodinger set out to have every Berkshire baby born in poverty to have a box. By June, the first ten were delivered to expectant moms in North Adams.
The Baby Box Co., the only accredited supplier of Baby Boxes in the world, selected the Bodinger’s nonprofit to receive 1,500 boxes, an impressive honor since the group is still in its infancy, so to speak. At November’s official launch party, Bodinger anounced that every baby born in the Berkshires will get a Baby Box, far surpassing her original goal.
Bodinger writes grants, locates partnering organizations, and searches for deals on fitted sheets and sleep sacks for baby and Clif Bars and nursing pads for mom. For the baby books, she reached out to the new owner of The Bookloft, Pamela Pescosolido, who said that part of her mission is to give ten percent of her profits to charity and she chose Berkshire Baby Box. David Gavin Salon donated ten gift certificates for haircuts for moms. Kiwanis gave 200 safety kits. Even a shopper at Kmart observed Bodinger’s cart full of washcloths and purchased her own stack for the boxes.
Bodinger is just getting warmed up. “You think it, then you make it happen,” she says.
Berkshire Nursing Families
Breastfeeding was a magical experience for Rosalie Girard. She credits breastfeeding with developing a child’s immune, neurological, and digestive systems, and improving a baby’s overall well-being. After a decade of observing a need for support services in northern Berkshire County, this mother of four became a lactation consultant. At the time, hospital employees were not trained in teaching new mothers about breastfeeding, and lactation consultants were not allowed into maternity wards. “By the time mothers came to me, it was too late,” says Girard.
In 1998, she received a $5,000 grant from the March of Dimes and with that as seed money, she started prenatal classes, saw mothers at North Adams Regional Hospital, made home visits, did phone follow ups, began playgroups, trained hospital staff, and kept breastfeeding statistics.
In its first year, Berkshire Nursing Families helped 260 families. Now, the part-time staff of ten operates out of North Adams and Pittsfield and serves 800 families annually. Half of new mothers in north county attempted breastfeeding when Girard began in 1999 and 38 percent were still doing it in the third month. Today, 87 percent try breastfeeding and 70 percent continue after three months. “I wanted to move the earth in a positive directions,” she says.
Berkshire Community Diaper Project
Dr. Marie Rudden heard a lecture at Austen Riggs by Dr. Megan Veenema Smith of Yale University, who laid out her research on the high correlation between poor parent-baby bonding and the inability to provide an adequate diaper supply. Rudden was shocked to learn that one in three families has trouble affording diapers, which cost $50 to $100 a month.
Daycare services often won’t take babies with an adequate diaper supply, and cloth diapers are not an option for families without washer/ dryers. “No diapers equals no work,” says Rudden, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist. The result is a crisis in early bonding with depressed and anxious parents and crying babies in soiled diapers.
Partnering with Erikson Institute Director Dr. Jane Tillman and with the support of Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute, Rudden launched the Berkshire Community Diaper Project in 2014. Ten women arrived at the first meeting and remain deeply invested. In two years, 165,000 diapers have been distributed to hundreds of families throughout the county. For Rudden, it’s been a joy. “I love this project.”
Berkshire Baby Box
Gift a Baby Box for $150, or make a donation of any size. berkshirebabybox.org
Berkshire Diaper Project
Organize a diaper drive at your school, church, or civic group, or make a donation. berkshirecommunitydiaperproject.com
Berkshire Nursing Families
The nonprofit seeks financial gifts and donated office space in downtown Pittsfield. berkshirenursingfamilies.org