Stork Project labor of love for Hollis woman
By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent | August 18. 2014 8:10PM
Kathi Lewis sorts through stacks of donated baby clothing in the loft of her Hollis townhouse Monday afternoon. Lewis’ Stork Project has donated more than 3,080 clothing bundles to needy newborns during the past seven years. APRIL GUILMET
Hollis stork project Lovingly packaged bundles of baby clothes and blankets await their new owners inside Kathi Lewis’ Hollis townhouse. April Guilmet
“Someone will offer me a high chair that I can’t turn down,” Lewis said this week. “I don’t usually do furniture, but two days later, I’ll get a call asking me ‘might you have a high chair?’”
Seven years after starting The Stork Project, the Hollis resident has worked with dozens of area social service agencies and distributed more than 3,080 bundles of baby clothing and bedding to needy parents she’ll never meet.
With demand for services constantly growing, Lewis said she has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“It’s not really about collecting clothes. It’s about collecting love,” Lewis said. “Love is what I’m giving out.”
Lewis began collecting baby items back in 2007, after learning that the nearby Hollis Academy preschool had some items left over following a children’s clothing sale.
With her adult daughter working as a social worker for the Department of Children’s and Youth Services, Lewis had heard countless stories of new mothers who, due to financial constraints, weren’t prepared to bring their newborns home from the hospital.
Something inside Lewis clicked and she began reaching out to area social service organizations. She initially began washing, sorting and folding the donated clothing and making little bundles for babies in need.
“I got to about my 37th bag and realized how great the need really was,” Lewis said. Eventually, she partnered with other charitable giving initiatives around the state, including Project Linus, which distributes hand-crafted quilts to various organizations.
Donated goods are picked up by Lewis herself, and there are no collection bins. Wish lists for needed items are provided to her by area social service organizations and each bundle is assembled in the loft of Lewis’ townhouse.
The bundles are designed to coincide with the month of a baby’s arrival. That way, the little one’s wardrobe will be appropriate for the season and climate.
“My only rule is that bundles are given to the baby, not to the mother,” Lewis said with a grin. “I won’t give out a bundle in September when the baby won’t be here until December.”
Some of the items tucked into the bundles, such as hand-knitted booties made by a friend at the Hunt Community in Nashua or blankets sewn by area middle school students, lend a personal touch.
Lewis, whose day job provides services for adults with disabilities, said she’s at times even called on her clients to lend a hand and the experience has been mutually beneficial.
One of her current clients sometimes helps to fold clothing and make sure each tiny snap is fastened before the items are placed into bundles.
“She loves knowing she’s making some babies happy,” Lewis said.
Indeed, the Stork Project has taken on a life all its own.
Late last week, she learned of a struggling family that had no crib: the five-day-old baby had been sleeping in the bed with its parents and four-year-old sibling.
Within three days, Lewis had tracked down a Pack ‘N Play portable bassinet for the family.
Like all items distributed by The Stork Project, the bassinet was given to a social worker, who delivered it to the grateful family.
Lewis said the need for donated bedding items, Pack ‘N Plays and bassinets is high, for a number of reasons.
Three years ago, a change in federal legislation made it illegal to sell used cribs because of safety concerns. In addition, many of the newer cribs on the market are designed to convert into toddler, then adult beds as the infants grow over time.
“The only alternatives are the bassinets, the Pack ‘N Plays,” Lewis said. “Then there are the factors most of us don’t even think about: the dangers that can present themselves when you put a baby in a laundry basket or a dresser drawer.”
Over the past week, Lewis has received two donated Pack ‘N Plays and both have already gone to their new homes.While she’s never met any of the babies she’s helped over the years, Lewis said she receives constant joy from showing hard-up families that someone out there cares.“When people give, you see their general goodness,” she said. “I’ve made so many friends by doing this. You never know whose life you’re going to touch.”
For more information or to arrange to donate gently-used baby items, visit www.thestorkproject.org.