Cleveland has averaged about 13 infant deaths
per 1,000 live births over the past five years, which is more than twice the national average. Curtailing that deadly trend is the goal of a recently founded local chapter of a national infant safety program.
Babies Need Boxes Ohio
launched two months ago to provide Finnish baby boxes, supplies and educational resources to Cleveland moms with babies up to six months of age. Baby boxes, first made available by Finnish officials to combat the country's infant mortality rate among low-income mothers in the 1930's, provide a safe, economical sleeping environment for babies living in impoverished conditions. The program became so popular it was quickly expanded. Now for more than seven decades, a baby box has been offered to all expectant Finnish moms.
Locally, the nonprofit's Cleveland chapter has partnered with University Hospitals MacDonald Women's Hospital
, the Cleveland Clinic
and Neighborhood Family Practice
to donate 200 boxes at the beginning of the new year. Elizabeth Dreyfuss, executive director of Babies Need Boxes Ohio, says the cardboard sleep spaces are perfectly sized for newborns.
"Transient families can bring the boxes with them and know their child will be safe as opposed to using a couch, or an abundance of blankets and pillows," says Dreyfuss.
The baby box giveaway is one facet of a larger mission to provide pre- and post-natal education to a disadvantaged populace. African-American babies in Ohio, for example, are three times as likely to die before the age one than white babies, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Babies Need Boxes was founded in the U.S. last year by Danielle Selassie of Fridley, Minnesota, and now counts Head Start
and United Way
among its organizational partners. Cleveland's chapter was started by five Shaker Heights moms including Dreyfuss, who saw the city's high infant mortality rate and wanted to do something about it.
"We wanted to support mothering, which needs more care than what we're able to offer alone," says Dreyfuss. "We're now looking for women in poverty, or on Medicaid. We also want to help immigrant and refugee families."
The group hopes to give out 600 boxes total by the end of 2017, while growing a volunteer base eager to aid new mothers. Ultimately, organization founders want to stop a dreadful epidemic that's taking newborns away all too soon.
"The goal is to get a box to every mom in Ohio," Dreyfuss says. "We're offering education and the ability for babies to have a safe sleep spot."