Katie Mcelveen 2015-09-01 03:18:21
Two philanthropic women harness star power and str ategic partnerships to supply necessities to families. When a baby cries, it’s likely that he or she needs a bottle or a diaper change, or both. For one-third of U. S. mothers, supplying both of the necessities isn’t an option. When Kelly Patricof and Norah Weinstein learned that statistic, they were more than startled—they were motivated. “We realized that five minutes away from us, mothers were being forced to choose between a clean diaper or food for their babies,” Weinstein says. “We wanted to do something to alleviate the problem.” The solution came in the form of Baby2Baby, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides these crucial supplies for low-income families. Originally small and underfunded, the concept resonated with the philanthropic pair, and in 2011 the two took over as co-presidents of the struggling agency to put their formidable skills—and social networks— to good use. A year later, they moved Baby2Baby from a 900-square-foot warehouse to a 6,000-square-foot headquarters, dramatically increased fundraising and hired a full-time staff. They had also significantly elevated the organization’s profile by recruiting A-list friends like Julie Bowen, Jessica Capshaw and Nicole Richie to serve as board members and angels (top-level volunteers), and holding a star-studded gala each year. Beyond honoring moms like Jessica Alba, Drew Barrymore and Kate Hudson for their commitment to assisting low-income families, the event raises a significant amount of money to support Baby2Baby’s programs and services. To further its mission, Baby2Baby has also formed strategic alliances with like-minded corporations including Tiffany & Co., Porsche Cars North America, Huggies, The Honest Co. And Montage Hotels & Resorts, which will host Baby2Baby’s 2015 Christmas Party at Montage Beverly Hills. The 500-member guest list will include not only board members and angels, but also recipient families. Hardworking Women Before Patricof and Weinstein became involved with Baby2Baby, both were active in philanthropic projects. Although she was a litigator with Skadden Arps, Weinstein found herself drawn to the firm’s pro bono cases, particularly when they were helping low-income mothers and children. Patricof followed an uncommon path to her current position at the helm of a nonprofit—she found her passion for giving back while working as a model. “I would volunteer at a Head Start center called Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem,” she says. “To see, firsthand, the children struggling with schoolwork because they didn’t have the basic necessities made me want to do something about it.” It was their own children, however, that inspired both women to move into the nonprofit world full time. “Becoming mothers ourselves made us realize how hard it is on so many levels,” Patricof explains. “Beyond the time commitment, kids need a lot of gear, and it’s expensive. We knew that low-income families were struggling with those issues.” And while the pair knew that Los Angeles has a high percentage of low-income residents, they were stunned by the numbers: 22 percent of LA residents live below the poverty level. For low-income families, paying for the 50 diapers per week needed for one child represents about 5 percent of their total income. “On top of all the other life challenges they face, these mothers didn’t even have enough diapers,” Patricof says. “It’s impossible not to be passionate about helping when you hear stories like that.” Passionate indeed: Both women give more than a full work week to the organization, doing everything from attending meetings to helping social workers understand how to use the equipment they’re being provided. Their work has paid off. Since 2011, Baby2Baby’s impact has been tremendous. It’s reached 100,000 kids this year, providing diapers, clothing, shoes, cribs and other necessities. “You start with diapers, but then you realize you want them to have wipes,” Patricof says. “A crib isn’t enough; they need warm bedding, too. The needs never end, and you want to do everything you can to try to meet them.” Important Partnerships Even with dedicated leaders and volunteers, the organization’s partner organizations like homeless and domestic violence shelters, Head Start programs, school districts and children’s hospitals rely on them to provide emergency supplies like soap, clothing and diapers. “Families often show up at a shelter in crisis with nothing but the clothes on their backs,” Weinstein explains. “Kids come to school with shoes that don’t fit or clothes that aren’t warm enough. By providing these items to our partner nonprofits, they can easily give them to those in need. That, in turn, helps them further their mission by freeing up financial resources.” Fostering worthy partnerships is just one part of how Baby2Baby supports children. The organization is perhaps best known for its seemingly magical ability to make tiny dreams come true. “When you’re a kid, that special Spiderman sweatshirt or a certain pair of sneakers is a really big deal,” Patricof says. “So we find ways to get kids some of the things they want in addition to what they need.” Baby2Baby board members, angels and other volunteers either match items that are needed and requested with donations, or purchase items for a specific child. “So much of what we do is about creating connections,” Weinstein says. “Our partners are amazing. They make sure kids get the right sizes and take the time to find out their favorite color or character. It makes such a difference.” Like many of those associated with Baby2Baby, Patricof often takes it upon herself to purchase certain requested items. Not only does it keep her connected to the families Baby2Baby serves, but it allows her children to be a part of the process as well. “I was shopping with my daughter for one of the children and had pulled a ‘Frozen’- themed nightgown off the shelf,” she recalls. “My daughter took one look at it and reminded me that the little girl had requested a ‘Hello Kitty’ nightgown, not ‘Frozen.’ She knew how important it was.” Going Beyond As the nonprofit grows, the founders continue to find ways support families in need. In 2014, Baby2Baby launched Sweet Dreams, an initiative to provide a crib, bassinette or play yard to every child in the program who needs a safe Place to sleep. In its first year, the Sweet Dreams campaign furnished more than 1,900 children with necessary items for a safe night’s rest, fulfilling 100 percent of the demonstrated needs of children in the program. The charity also provides support to children and their parents through Play Dates, a series of lighthearted events held at the company’s headquarters. Taking on themes from holidays or seasons, each party is a fun afternoon of games, food and crafts. At this year’s springtime fiesta celebrating Cinco de Mayo, for instance, guests enjoyed a performance by a group of flamenco dancers, had their faces painted, ate lunch from an on-site taco truck and participated in a music class and other activities. At the end of every event, each child receives a goody bag brimming with useful items like pajamas, socks, shampoo, backpacks, underwear, shoes and school supplies. The parents often enjoy the parties as much as the younger participants do. These events have also given the co-presidents a chance to really get to know the families they’re helping through Baby2Baby. The head of one such family is a woman who works at Taco Bell. “[She] is in school and has children to support,” Weinstein says. “Her goal is to set up a college fund for her children, because she knows that education is the key to improving their lives. The more we can give her, the more money she’ll have to put into that fund. That’s hope, for her and for her kids. For us, that’s an incredibly powerful thing to hear.” BABY BASICS BY THE NUMBERS It’s undeniable that Baby2Baby has provided an immeasurable service to the mothers and babies of LA. Thankfully, some things can be quantified, and the organization’s statistics are a testament to its important place in the community. Here’s the (growing) lineup of necessities that the nonprofit has collected thus far: 85,000+ BOTTLES 108,795 PIECES OF CLOTHING 68,000 PAIRS OF SHOES 40,590 TOYS 11,606 BOOKS JOINING THE CAUSE Baby2Baby operates with the help of a network of supporters, and there are many ways for the public to contribute to the efforts. Whether LA volunteers want to get involved in-person or allies would like to donate from afar, every little bit helps. For more information about giving back, visit baby2baby.org. VOLUNTEER Mondays and Wednesdays are open volunteer days at Baby2Baby’s headquarters (6435 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles). “We used to call it ‘Give Back Monday,’ but we had so many volunteers that we added Wednesday,” Kelly Patricof says. It’s popular with local high school students, but adults are welcome, too. Expect to sort donations, wrap gifts and clean toys and other items. The company also invites supporters to host a baby drive or shower for items. DONATE Baby2Baby accepts donations of clothing, toys, maternity clothes, cribs and other baby items at more than 25 drop-off locations around the region. All gifts should be clean and in great condition; clothing should be free from stains and tears. “We call it the golden standard,” Norah Weinstein says. “If we wouldn’t put it on our own kids, we can’t accept it.” Cribs, safety gates and other baby-proofing supplies must meet Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines. GLOBAL SUPPORT Although the organization is based in LA, it’s still possible to give remotely. Baby2Baby accepts electronic donations and mailed checks. Organizers also curated an online registry for the many necessities the nonprofit provides to underprivileged families, including strollers, hygiene items, diapers, clothing and books. All of the gifts can be purchased through online retailers, making it easy to get children the things they need, no matter where you live.
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