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Group sews gifts to donate to newborns in need

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Elizabeth Parsons holds up a baby sweater made for HeartFelt Angels, a nonprofit that knits, crochets and sews baby items for hospitals. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Items made for HeartFelt Angels include blankets and outfits for newborns. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Parsons arranges items for HeartFelt Angels at Winchester Medical Center. Dennis Grundman/Daily

WINCHESTER -- Sometimes the smallest gestures are the ones most appreciated and most needed. That's what Elizabeth Parsons thought when she decided to begin the Virginia chapter of Afghans for Angels in 1999.

Now, 10 years later, the group is going strong, under its new name, HeartFelt Angels, and has helped countless families all across Virginia during their times of need. The nonprofit group makes afghans, blankets and clothing for newborns whose families, for one reason or another, are unprepared to clothe the infants during their hospital stay.

Parsons found out about the national Afghans for Angels when she was doing an online search for crocheting patterns. She decided to join the cause because of her own experience in the newborn intensive care unit at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. Her second son, born three months early, had to remain in the hospital much longer than Parsons had originally planned -- two months.

"He was perfect, he just needed to grow," she says. "He came home at 4 pounds, some odd ounces, so. He's 21 [years old] now."

While at the hospital she witnessed the many other families blind-sided by unexpected extended hospital stays who could have benefited from a group like Afghans for Angels.

Parsons, herself, had no clothes for her 2-pound baby to wear. The hospital could offer only hats or booties to newborns.

"They told me I could go out to buy doll's clothes. I said, 'No,'" she says, remembering how she had to search for the smallest outfit she could find to fit him.

When she learned of the charity club, she jumped at the chance to help other mothers and babies.

"I got some friends, crochet friends, to help me, and that's how we took off," she says. The group started out at U.Va., but quickly branched out to other hospitals, including Lewis-Gale Medical Center in Salem and Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital. When Parsons moved from Bedford to Winchester a year later, she included Winchester Medical Center in the group's beneficiaries. The group now blankets 13 hospitals across Virginia and even sends quilts and baby clothes to West Virginia, Tennessee, New York and Colorado.

"When they have a need, we help," Parsons says.

The group changed its name five years ago when it decided it wanted to make more than just afghans.

"We kind of outgrew our name so we decided on HeartFelt Angels," she says.

HeartFelt Angels meets on the second Tuesday of each month at Winchester Medical Center in the conference room next to Subway to drop off any baby items and discuss upcoming plans.

The meetings attract up to 20 people, she says, but the online group has 70 members.

"It's the same group, but it's for people who can't attend the meetings. The club's members live all over the country and provide clothing, blankets and other items for labor and delivery units and newborn intensive care units.

Though the items can bring happiness to those celebrating a new addition to their families, the group's offerings also comfort those in times of great sorrow: The donated clothes and blankets also benefit families whose babies don't make it, Parsons says. It's a small consolation, but it can offer a couple just the slightest amount of comfort to not have to worry about that one detail, she says.

"I saw several babies not make it," she says. She saw parents without anything to use to clothe their child and wanted to help them. "I just had to do it."

The members personalize their items using different styles, including crocheting, quilting and knitting and working with various different colors, with the holidays. In May some will make items of pink, green and white -- Apple Blossom colors, and near U.Va. homecoming Parsons uses orange and blue in her work.

"I just package everything up and I take it to the hospital, and they decide who gets it," she says.

The group has a Web site, www.heartfeltangels.com, and a blog site, heartfeltangels.blogspot.com. Though the goal is to aid families in need, the group has had a dual benefit -- helping its own members.

"It's a two-fold thing," Parsons says "Helping people in hospitals and giving members something to do." The group, she says, is perfect for retirees, who are looking for a way to spend their time with friends helping those in need, though certainly anyone interested is invited to join.

"And we're always looking for new members to crochet, knit, sew," Parsons says.


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