Baby Basket

Emily Sanden of Meadville poses next to her 5-month-old son, Radley, as he is covered in a handmade baby blanket she received in the Crawford County Baby Basket Program.

Initially started in late 2019, the Crawford County Baby Basket Program celebrated reaching its 200th referral this month, marking continual success in helping new parents in the county.

Operating out of the Crawford County Drug and Alcohol Office, the Baby Basket Program prepares, as the name implies, baskets full of baby supplies and information for parents who are referred to the service. The included items range from pacifiers and baby wipes, to handmade blankets created by various individuals and organizations in the community.

Joining with this is information about various programs that new parents can take advantage of as their child grows, such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program or Early Head Start.

Ramona Myers-Cohen, who has been the program coordinator since January 2019, said the Baby Basket started out relatively slow.

“We started off right as the pandemic hit, so it was a little bit hard at the beginning getting the word out,” she said.

Over time, as word of the program got out and more groups got involved, things began to snowball. Myers-Cohen said the program was really able to hit its stride in August of 2020, as Meadville Medical Center’s New Life Unit began submitting referrals for babies born at the hospital.

Perhaps best showcasing this is the relative speed at which the program got to its 200th referral compared to its 100th. Myers-Cohen said the 100th referral occurred in the fall of 2020, around a year after the program began. Getting to 200 took just a little over half a year after that.

Trish Allen, nurse manager of the New Life Unit and pediatrics at Meadville Medical Center, said the baskets have been a major help in getting parents to learn about programs that can assist them. 

In fact, through referring people to the program, Allen said she was surprised to learn a fairly common topic that parents ask about is how to deal with postpartum depression and anxiety. 

“To me, it’s almost overwhelming,” she said.

When the hospital refers someone to get a baby basket, it gives them a sheet of paper with topics that parents can check off if they want to receive more information. Dealing with mental health issues after the baby is born has become a popular choice, though several other programs have also been picked prominently, with Allen mentioning Early Intervention and Crawford County Human Services.

As for the items included, Allen said some of the most important supplies are safety items such as outlet covers and nail clippers sized for infants.

While called the Crawford County Baby Basket Program, Allen said parents from nearby counties who have their baby born at Meadville Medical Center also get referred to the program.

With 200 referrals and counting, the baskets have proven to be a major help for many new parents, including Emily Sanden of Meadville.

Sanden had her baby, Radley, at Meadville Medical Center on Jan. 30, 2021. Like many parents before and after her, she was referred for a basket containing supplies and info, though she found the basket to be a major plus as well.

“The basket itself is actually a laundry basket, which is super helpful,” she said.

Sanden also received baby toothbrushes, a storage box for milk and, especially heartwarming, a handmade blanket.

However, she especially enjoyed the packets of information.

“I wasn’t even aware of those programs until I got the blankets,” she said.

Sanden said she found the information about Early Intervention especially useful. While it’s mainly geared toward children older than her own, she plans to utilize Early Intervention programs as Radley grows up.

With the program’s success so far, Myers-Cohen said a major goal at the moment is pursuing more grant funding and organization cooperation to make sure the Crawford County Baby Basket Program is here to stay.

“I think we’d like to see it continue strong, and right now the real task is setting it up so it can be sustainable,” she said.

Several programs and organizations already assist in making the program a possibility. The program initially was founded through grant funding from the hospital, and it has received support from groups like Crawford Heritage Community Foundation, Human Resources and Services Administration Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, Knotty Ladies from the Crawford Care Center and more.

In addition, the program accepts public donations, which can be dropped off at the Crawford County Drug and Alcohol Office in the Meadville Downtown Mall during business hours.

Regardless of the existing support, Myers-Cohen said she is always on the lookout for new ways to help the Baby Basket continue to be a success, as well as new information to include in the baskets. After all, reception of the program has been consistently strong.

“I’m really pleased with how it’s going,” she said. “We’ve been getting our referrals and we’ve been getting the baskets out and we’ve been getting positive feedback from the surveys.”

Anyone interested in referring someone to the Crawford County Baby Basket Program can do so in a couple of ways. A referral form is available on the program’s Facebook page, which is called Crawford Baby Baskets. Referrals can also be emailed to rmyerscohen@gmail.com or a phone referral can be done by contacting Crawford County Drug and Alcohol at (814) 724-4100.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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