Angel Gowns For Babies Born Too Soon

ND Angel Gowns repurposes donated wedding dresses to make final photo and burial gowns for babies that were born too soon. The nonprofit distributes the gowns at no cost to any hospital, infant loss organization or funeral home that requests them. The volunteers make them from their hearts, and they know the meaning behind each one.

Judi Gibson, a nurse at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis, Indiana, first heard about the program when she was a new mom. She knew she had to help. “I didn’t want any parent to have to go looking through the lost and found tub at the hospital for a little outfit for their baby,” she said. Then she remembered that her grandmother Edith was an expert seamstress. “If I could get people together to sew these beautiful dresses, then maybe we would have a small part in comforting these families at such a hard time,” she said.

Gibson’s work has now spread to a few dozen states. The dresses are made from silks and satins, pearls, beads, lace and tulle. They are sized to fit babies born at 35 weeks, or less, and can be made for either boys or girls. The group also makes hats, bonnets, sleeping bags and blankets to complete the ensemble.

Bonnie Kalahar, a seamstress from Lansing, Michigan, has been sewing for the program since 2014. She recently added vests and bow ties to the dresses for boys. She tries to personalize each outfit with the names and birth dates of the babies who will wear them. She has even sewed bells to some of the dresses, a nod to the ending of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life.

Every year in the United States, about 626,000 babies are born too soon. They are called “preemies.” They may not live long enough to see their first birthday or their first holiday. Often, they’re not able to be sent home from the hospital because of the size or nature of their condition. But they deserve a special way to be remembered.

Across the country, programs like these have started popping up in hospitals and communities. Some are volunteer run, and others have received funding from private donors or the state. The NICU Helping Hands nonprofit is one of them. Its founder, Diane Wright of Grandview United Methodist Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma, says the goal is to ensure no grieving family has to look through the hospital’s lost and found tub for a dress for their baby.

Wright has seeded the program in other churches and in her own community, where she’s connected with a few grandmothers and aunts who enjoy sewing and are willing to do their part. She’s also sent gowns to a hospital in Africa and plans to continue spreading the word. “This is a very important service, and I hope we can get it to as many hospitals as possible,” she says. “It’s a way to give parents a measure of comfort.” — By Michelle Bjornstad for NBC News.