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Gift of safe sleep

Sarah Stover looks down at her newborn son, Reese, who rests in the arms of his father Kyle Wednesday at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth. The day after Reese was delivered via C-section, Babies Need Boxes Northland delivered a sleep box packed with baby necessities to the family. The nonprofit provided 110 similar boxes to area parents in its first year. Maria Lockwood

Sometimes the biggest joys come in the smallest packages. Reese Stover, for example, weighed in at 6 pounds and 15 ounces when he arrived Tuesday. Enchanted, new parents Sarah and Kyle Stover watched their son Wednesday as he slept.

A local nonprofit delivers unique gift box for these bundles of joy. Amanda Lindquist, director of Duluth operations for Babies Need Boxes Northland, stopped by St. Luke’s Hospital with one for the Stovers. Packed with diapers, ointment, books, toenail clippers, burp clothes and other baby essentials, the box itself can be used as a portable bassinet.

"I’m thrilled that this is even an option," said Sarah Stover, who lives in Grand Marais, Minn.

Her mother, Pat Holt, was equally impressed.

"What a fabulous idea," she said.

For Stover, it’s especially helpful. There’s a serious shortage of child care options in Grand Marais, she said.

"We don’t know when we’ll have child care," Stover said, but her employer is flexible. "We’ll have to make it work."

The box could travel with her to and from the office, a safe spot for her son to rest during the day that doesn’t take up much room.

Since it launched last January, Babies Need Boxes Northland has provided 110 sleep boxes containing baby essentials to area mothers. The nonprofit program follows the Finnish tradition of equipping moms with tools needed for a successful transition to motherhood.

The box, complete with mattress and fitted sheet, can serve as a baby’s sleep space for about six months.

"I could see using it when she’s a newborn for a while ’til she can roll over," said Karena Schilling of Duluth, whose daughter Persephone is due at the end of the month. "It’s a lot like a bassinet, except it can go on the floor."

Or a table, Lindquist said.

"Most of our families use the baby boxes as baby’s first crib," she said. "Some use them exclusively, while others use them for naptimes only. The mothers have commented that they love the portability of the baby box."

It offers options for tight living spaces.

"A parent that I gave a box to last spring was so relieved because they didn’t have much space for a crib in their apartment," said Head Start home base teacher Rebecca Gamache. "Our Head Start family advocates and teachers also like that the baby boxes open up a great line of communication about safe sleep habits in a positive way."

Public response has been overwhelmingly favorable, although some mothers are skeptical at first.

"They hear ‘cardboard box’ and think more about shipping boxes," Lindquist said. "But once we show people the construction of the baby boxes and give them the safety data, they are usually on board with the idea and have been supportive of our program."

The nonprofit partners with established programs like public health nurses, Head Start and Early Childhood Family Education to provide additional support to families.

"Parents are getting the tangible items for a newborn from our baby boxes, while our partners provide the education component parents need before and after baby arrives," Lindquist said. "This combination has proven effective in countries like Finland, which has one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates."

The nonprofit relies on donations to provide the boxes and items. In the past year, the program has received support from Harbortown Rotary, Cloquet Rotary, Rotary Club 25 of Duluth, aimClear, Lake Superior Consulting, FOG Lutheran Church of Duluth, the Northland Foundation and individual donations.

Babies Need Boxes Northland will celebrate one year of successful deliveries 5-7 p.m. Jan. 19 at White Sheep Studio in the Red Mug building, 1323 Broadway St., Suite 200. The event includes a brief slideshow, light fare and a raffle.

Currently, Babies Need Boxes Northland provides boxes to families in St. Louis, Cook and Carlton Counties. The group is seeking to form partnerships in the Iron Range and Douglas County, Wis.

"We are currently looking for partners in the Superior area," Lindquist said.

Interested organizations can email Amanda@babiesneedboxes.org for more information or visit www.babiesneedboxes.org.

Boxes are provided to families that qualify for the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program or don’t have a safe sleep space for their baby.

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