Receiving blankets. Afghans. Bibs and hats. Each made by hand with loving care. Comforting things every newborn baby deserves. For more than 35 years, hundreds of babies around the Bay Area have been greeted into this world with just such gifts. This is possible thanks to a group of American Red Cross volunteers who began by only wanting to help others and who ended up forming enduring friendships as well.
The group was started at the Burlingame, California, office in 1975 by Emmie Lou Phillips, a long-time Red Cross volunteer. Ever since then, every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, a group of women called the Production Ladies can be found there, enjoying each other’s company, laughing, sipping their morning coffee, and sewing baby items for layettes.
The baby items for each layette include a hand-crocheted afghan or quilt, a receiving blanket, a top and jacket, a bib, burp cloths, hats, booties, and a stuffed animal. These layettes are given to needy mothers throughout San Mateo County who have been assisted by the Red Cross, the San Francisco Homeless Prenatal Program, military families of Travis Air Force Base, the San Mateo Medical Center, and San Mateo Public Health. The total distribution in 2013 was 1,177 items.
One veteran of the group, Martha Avilez, walked through the doors of the Burlingame Red Cross office 17 years ago after seeing an ad in a local newspaper asking for volunteers.
“I enjoy the relationships with my fellow workers,” Martha said of her time spent with the group.
Other long term volunteers, Vivian Wong and Beverly Gooler, have been part of the Production Ladies since 1998. Dolores Sternick, the present leader of the group, stumbled across her companions one afternoon in 2010.
Laughing, Dolores explained, “Oh, I just live around the corner and stopped in one day.”
Marsha Yamamoto, a volunteer since 2011 said, “I just love it.”
The Production Ladies were recently invited to a baby shower given by the Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco. Expecting mothers take prenatal education and parenting classes and at the end of the program are given a baby shower.
“It’s nice to see our items given away,” said one of the Production Ladies.
The Production Ladies is a self-sustaining group, purchasing their materials through donations. But with the cost of materials always increasing and the number of donations unfortunately decreasing, the group is being forced to explore new fundraising avenues.
Every Tuesday when these women leave the Red Cross office, they leave with the satisfied feeling of contributing something that someone in need will use and enjoy. The Production Ladies are always looking for new volunteers to join the group. Volunteers don’t have to be experts at sewing or knitting. And lasting friendships might be gained along the way.