It is not often that a donation is given with the hope it may never be used.
Earlier this week, Clayton Dunn, Anne Price, members of Graves Memorial Presbyterian Church and staff at Sampson Regional Medical Center convened on the third floor of the hospital, just outside the Obstetrics wing, for a special donation — one very few would likely receive, but would always remember.
Three white handmade, wooden boxes, two measuring 18 inches long and another measuring 12 inches, were neatly organized and handed over to Shannon Capps, supervisor of obstetrics at Sampson Regional. Beautiful in their simplicity, the painted white boxes — each emblazoned with a cross — were opened to reveal small bedding and an even smaller pillow.
The donation was the culmination of the church’s Infant Cradle Ministry, which provides handmade wooden “cradles” for stillborn babies. A member of Graves Memorial in Clinton, Dunn spearheaded the local effort earlier this year and has since received plentiful assistance along the way.
Nancy Perry, community service chairwoman for Graves Memorial, was one who championed the outreach.
“They were so dedicated,” Perry remarked of Dunn, Price and others. “Clayton did all the hard work in his shop. As soon as Clayton would get those done, Anne would put the linings in.”
Dunn said there are seven more cradles that will be delivered to Sampson Regional once the fabric on the interior is completed.
“I have more to put linings in,” said Price, who teaches at Midway High School. She credited fellow teacher Susan Mills with helping put the interior together and conceded it is a process that takes a little longer than one might expect.
“It’s not as pretty as I want it,” she said, “but it’s just so difficult to make it that small.”
In North Carolina, state laws assign parents the responsibility for the disposition of their stillborn child’s remains when the pregnancy terminates after 20 weeks. In many cases, distressed and needy families face financial hardships in dealing with those requirements. As part of the local ministry, infant cradles are provided free of charge for the dignified transfer of remains from Sampson Regional.
Capps said that while the hospital has procedures in place to assist families, having a handmade gift can make all the difference.
“We’re very touched by this donation,” she said. “We do provide a service currently for our patients with fetal losses, but this will just give them another option with the handmade cradles.”
Dunn discussed the idea for an Infant Cradle Ministry with Graves Pastor Jim Moran back in the spring. Having just read about a similar ministry started at Pinehurst United Methodist Church, Dunn contacted that church’s minister, David Beam, and expressed interest in getting a program going here.
“I came to the hospital to find out how many they needed, and they told me anywhere from about 8 to 10 a year,” Dunn noted. “So I called the minister back and asked him how to get started. He sent me all the measurements I needed.”
Then, with donations from Lowe’s, which provided wood materials — plywood and regular boards — as well as paint, Dunn was well on his way. In addition to the volunteer labor the effort received, Harry’s Saw Shop on U.S. 701 offered saw sharpening and the church covered the cost of miscellaneous items, including fabric, glue and putty.
Dunn is long since retired, having served as a USDA meat inspector for 20 years, then with the Sheriff’s Office for 10 years. Following a heart attack and stroke, Dunn stepped away and recuperated before returning to the workforce as a security guard at Sampson Regional for another 10 years. Then he retired for good.
“I started doing little things like house work, yard work, and that took up all my time,” Dunn said. “And when I read this article, I figured that would be a good thing to do. That’s when I started. I didn’t even know about it until I read about it.”
Dunn was immediately taken with the idea of building the cradles. Moran was too.
“I never heard of it before,” Moran echoed of the cradle ministry. “I thought it was a great ministry to the families that are in distress, especially those who can’t afford something nice themselves. This is nice for any family. It is some comfort to know their child is going to have something to leave the hospital in.”
The church’s board also wanted to see the effort materialize locally.
“They were so excited they couldn’t wait to get on board,” Perry said.
Graves’ administrative assistant Melissa Griffin crafted inserts to bring awareness to the program, solicit support and comfort families who received the gift.
“It is our hope that these cradles will express the love of Jesus to some unknown family in a time of distress, sorrow and need,” the insert reads, offering a passage from Psalm 31:24: “Be strong and let you heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.”
Judy Naylor, director of volunteer services at the hospital, was on hand to help distribute the cradles. She called the ministry “a wonderful service.”
“I think this is something that will continue year after year,” Dunn said.
“We’re just going to continue to do this,” she added.
“I just hope you don’t need too many,” Dunn said to Capps.
Just as Dunn was inspired by an article he read about the Pinehurst United Methodist Church’s infant cradle ministry, Perry hopes others take similar inspiration from the efforts of Dunn, Price, Mills and those who have donated time, resources and effort toward the outreach.
“Graves certainly does likes being a part of giving the support to Clayton and others. We just really appreciate it,” said Perry. “We hope others are inspired by this ministry, so that love keeps going on.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.