Brenda Wilson wore a white- and blue-laced wedding dress on her big day 36 years ago. Her dress, still packaged in a shadow box, had its “little day” Feb. 16 when the Slaughter resident donated it to Born with Angels Wings, so it could be turned into garments for babies who die before or right after birth.
Born with Angels Wings is a new organization with its roots in loss and grief. Baton Rouge real estate retiree Annie McCoy started the group as a vehicle of healing after the loss of a great-grandchild. “In 2013, I lost my first great-grandbaby and I’ve lost three more since then,” McCoy said. “I was so upset over the loss of the baby; I couldn’t stop thinking about the loss.”
McCoy said she wanted something to do and felt she was led by God spoke to “help grieving parents to dress that precious little angel for burial.”
After months of research and soul-searching, she started to reach out to other families experiencing the loss of a child. “Two of my high school friends, Sheryl Finn Broussard and Peggy Sharp Cody, started making blankets,” she said.
The seeds of the group spouted into an organization and the Feb. 16 workshop at Blackwater United Methodist Church in Central marked the first meeting and workday for volunteers from the greater Baton Rouge area including Zachary, Central, Denham Springs and Gonzales.
Three organizers — McCoy, April Aucoin, and Jennifer Starns — divide duties that include sewing instruction, volunteer recruiting and taking in donated items. McCoy said she is amazed the team had no prior contact before joining the Born with Angels Wings team.
“April and I have a mutual friend, Randy Tubbs, and he shared a post, and April responded,” McCoy said. “April then posted on a Facebook page asking for bridal dress donations, and Jennifer Starns responded offering to sew.”
Starns, a home health agency owner and administrator from Central, stepped in to become the group’s head seamstress. She said her mother taught her to sew at a very young age and she started making her own clothes at 12. “I wanted different styles from what she wanted to make me, so she told me if I wanted that, I had to make it myself,” Starns said. “Now sewing is my stress relief.”
“I was introduced to Born with Angel Wings through a friend on Facebook,” Starns said. “I felt that this was something I could do with my sewing talents that would help others in their darkest hours. I know that newborn and regular preemie gowns are easy to get, however, some of these little angels are much smaller and finding gowns is not easy. These tiny gowns are small like doll clothes. I wanted to be able to help provide these families with something nice for their angel. Not a doll outfit from somewhere like Walmart.”
Starns offered her talents and time, but she, like other volunteers, became a magnet to draw others to the group. Her good friend Carole Wilkins, a retired grandmother from Zachary, donated a dress and volunteered to help. “I thought it was a wonderful cause, and I’m here because my friend was involved,” Wilkins said. “I thought I needed to get involved in something and I felt this was a fabulous idea.”
“And she needed a mission,” Starns added.
The first workshop involved different stations. One room was full of crochet and jewelry assemblers. Marie Miller, of Watson, worked on tiny pink crocheted hats and booties. She said she’s been crocheting since she was 14 and has donated items to NICU wards in the past.
A room was set aside for disassembling wedding gowns. Carrie Carpenter, of Central, didn’t feel confident in her sewing skills, but she was sure she would be a good “puller-aparter.” She said she has been wanting to do something like this in response to her own family’s loss and friends who have lost babies. “Give them a little bit of light in a dark time,” she said.
The sewing room was quiet except for the buzz of several sewing machines. Many ladies assembled pre-cut garments made from donated material and disassembled formal wear. Irene Peterson, of Gonzales, who has been sewing since the fourth grade, she split her time between her own work area and helping the teenage girl stationed next to her. Her years of experience was matched by a mother’s patience and encouragement as the 16-year-old gained pride in the little teddy-bear-print dress that was taking shape. Peterson, who lost a baby earlier in life, was interested in both the crafting and the opportunity to help other mothers.
Aucoin led efforts to take in dresses and donated supplies. She documented each dress so the recipients would know who made the donation. In addition to a room at the church, Aucoin’s house is full of dresses and donated supplies. She said she is grateful her husband understands the loss of their personal space. “He’s OK because he knows why I’m doing it,” she said. “My heart is in it because I’ve been that mom. I sit on my couch and take them apart because my sewing skills are not great”
Aucoin used Facebook groups like Zachary and Central Rants and Raves to get both volunteers and donations. The owners of Central Cleaners also saw Born with Angel Wings posts and offered to donate cleaning services. “They saw the post on Facebook and she immediately texted me,” Aucoin said.
Groups at First United Methodist in Baton Rouge and First Baptist of Zachary are among those interested in started efforts at their churches. “This has been an undertaking, but it has been a blessing to bring these many people together,” Aucoin said.
After the garments are completed, the group will distribute them to hospitals and funeral homes in the area.
“We provide tiny little angel gowns to grieving parents with garments to bury their baby,” McCoy said. “You can’t go out and purchase clothing small enough for them.”
Starns said the gifts will go a long way to aid those grieving. “My prayer is to just be a light to these parents in their darkest hour,” she said. “If I can do that one stitch at a time with my talents, then I've accomplished what God wanted me to do.”
Another workshop is planned for March 30 at Blackwater United Methodist Church. For information, call (225) 270-6453 or email JenniferS.BornWithAngelWings@gmail.com.