Angel Gowns For Babies

Across the United States, nearly one baby is born every minute that doesn’t get to go home with their parents. It’s a statistic that is often overlooked, but the women who volunteer their time to make angel gowns for these babies and their families are not. “We want to make them feel loved, cared for, and honored,” says Judi Mangiaracina, the founder of the national nonprofit program. Donated wedding dresses are transformed into one-of-a-kind burial gowns, or angel gowns, which are given to hospitals, birthing centers, and funeral homes for free.

For women like Edith Sullivan, who donated her own wedding dress to the project in 2017, it’s a chance to give back. “When I lost my daughter, Grace, I was overwhelmed by the lack of support and resources,” she explains. “I wanted to do something to help.”

After a career in health care that included labor and delivery nursing and executive roles, Mangiaracina retired, but she never left her sewing machine behind. Now, she and dozens of other seamstresses work to turn donated dresses into angel gowns for families that lose their baby during pregnancy or shortly after birth. The program has chapters and affiliates nationwide, supplying hospitals in cities as far away as Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. They add personal touches to each gown, stitching words like “heaven’s angel” and antique buttons saved from their own collections. They even sew little bells on the gowns, inspired by the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character rings a bell to signal Clarence the angel had arrived.

The gowns are delivered to grateful hospital staff, who in turn offer them to families as a token of their appreciation. They are cherished keepsakes, turning difficult times into more meaningful memories. “It’s so heartwarming to see families experiencing tears of joy and gratitude as they select the gown that they will take home,” says Mangiaracina, who recently received a letter from a mother in Long Beach whose daughter was sent to Riley after being born at 37 weeks. “This is what our mission is all about.”

In addition to her work with the organization, she also volunteers as a hospice case manager and speaks at schools to raise awareness about the needs of stillborn babies. She aims to continue expanding the program, which is now a project without borders, so that no family will ever be left feeling alone or forgotten in their loss.

Lisa Taylor is the placement coordinator for the nonprofit. She has a master’s in nonprofit management and has worked as a consultant in the field. Her passion for not-for-profits started during her years as a missionary in Bolivia and continues today, when she lives in Utah with her husband and six children.

Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California is dedicated to providing high quality, compassionate care and access to community members. For more information, visit their website.