Pediatrician Dr. Samantha Gulino was one of the first runners to leave the staging area Saturday at the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies.

She was followed by more than 300 runners and walkers raising money for the March of Dimes’ efforts to “help families with premature babies ... and support research to prevent premature babies,” she said.

Gulino and a team from Magnolia Pediatrics took part in the event, which started and ended at the Gonzales Public Safety Center on Orice Roth Road.

They were joined by a dozen or so other teams who set up tents, served breakfast and gathered afterward for lunch.

Gulino’s reason for running was simple — the babies.

She said healthy moms have sick babies every day but research funded by March of Dimes is resulting in better outcomes.

The money raised Saturday also supports programs for parents of premature babies, she said.

“They provide families emotional support in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) after a premature birth,” she said.

One of those positive outcomes also took part in the event on Saturday.

Kaleb Matassa, 5, who spent seven weeks in a New Orleans hospital after being born five months premature, held his dad’s hand Saturday as the walkers gathered for a pre-walk rally.

Kendall Matassa, Kaleb’s dad, said he always supported March of Dimes at his workplace before his son’s birth, “but after, I really understood why it’s so important.

“You know the research is important, but until it happens to you, you don’t know just how important it really is.”

He became emotional as he talked about his son’s surgeries and time in the hospital.

“Today, he’s all boy,” Matassa said.

Genevieve Pearson, community director for the Capital Area March of Dimes said the event is to celebrate healthy babies.

“We march for healthy babies, the babies born too soon or too sick and our angel babies who have passed,” she said.