It’s just a small, stuffed giraffe. But for two Buckner sisters – Stacy Barter and Amy Miller – the cuddly animal is more than a plaything.
Not only does it remind Stacy and husband Phil of the boy-girl twins they lost at 24 weeks in February 2007, but it’s also the heart of The Tiny 2 Giraffe Project that evolved from the premature deaths of twins Truman and Taylor.
Since founding the project two years ago, the sisters have brought love and comfort to some 80 bereaved families who have experienced a miscarriage, a stillbirth or an infant death.
The Tiny 2 Giraffe Project provides bereavement and miscarriage care packages to patients at Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence. The hospital is a co-partner in the project, which the sisters say is “a group of people who work together to serve Centerpoint patients.”
“What we hoped to provide was not only something for the families, but also something for the nurses to give to (grieving) families,” Stacy says, noting the nurses wanted to be helpful but didn’t have any resources.
Composed of some 30 to 35 volunteers, the project isn’t affiliated with any church or any organization.
“Amy warehouses all the items at her house, and we assemble as needed,” Stacy says, noting the hospital keeps five or six care bags available for nurses to distribute at their discretion. “We just keep Centerpoint stocked up with the bags, and they call us when they need more.”
Each green tote bag, with a giraffe in the logo, contains “a little bit of everything,” she says, including a set of matching blankets. “One blanket can go with the baby to the funeral home and the other can remain with the family.”
There’s also a stuffed giraffe, which is used in various ways, she says. “Some bury them with their child. Some keep them as a memory.”
“To wipe away the tears” is an embroidered handkerchief, to moisturize the lips is ChapStick and to moisturize the body is a travel-size lotion.
In addition, there is a writing pen, a chocolate bar, breath mints, two tea bags, facial tissues, a journal/notebook and two books: “When Hello Means Goodbye” and “A Guide for Fathers: When a Baby Dies.”
Stacy recalls searching for something to do to channel her grief after her premature twins died. However, she confesses, she didn’t do a very good job of finding an outlet until the births of her second set of boy-girl twins, Thomas and Tanner. They were born at Centerpoint 11 months to the day after the first set of twins died at the Medical Center of Independence.
Hearing about an organization providing care packages to patients at Kansas University Hospital intrigued the sisters, who thought, “Why can’t we do that for Centerpoint ?”
And they did.
Stacy, who admits The Tiny 2 Giraffe Project started selfishly as an outlet to honor Truman and Taylor, recalled attending an infant memorial service last fall at Centerpoint and seeing a weeping woman clutching a stuffed giraffe from her bag.
“It was great to see the giraffe meant so much to her,” Stacy says, recalling that during the 14 days she spent in the hospital with her first set of twins, she had a tiny giraffe to comfort her, too.
But what was it about this awkward-looking animal that attracted Stacy?
It was the long legs, she says.
“Truman and Taylor had the longest legs and looked like a giraffe,” Stacy says, adding, that “it just became natural for us to use the giraffe on our logo ... as the giraffe is a symbol of the twins.”
After two years, The Tiny 2 Giraffe Project is still making a difference in the lives of Centerpoint patients.
“Actually, we are growing and expanding our outreach with the start of a miscarriage care program,” she explains. “As we talked to more and more moms, we came to find out from the number of care packages we have handed out that there is a whole group of women who miscarry and just kind of walk in and out of the hospital.”
But not anymore, thanks to Centerpoint nurses who present moms who miscarry with a special bag containing the following: a tealight candle, packet of Forget Me Nots flower seeds, raspberry hot tea (aids with cramping), chamomile hot tea (calming), a care and grief pamphlet, facial tissues and a chocolate bar.
Now The Tiny 2 Giraffe Project is collecting old wedding gowns and turning them into burial dresses for premature babies.
Says Stacy: “My biggest hurdle initially out of the hospital was that we had these little, bitsy babies that wouldn’t fit in regular clothes, so we ended up at a doll shop in Shawnee, Kan., and purchased tiny doll clothes for them to be buried in. So we are hoping to be able to supply an instant resource at the hospital for families to have dresses that are accessible to them to bury their kids in.”
Burial dresses, though, are not in the bereavement packages. Instead, they are sent to Centerpoint and given to families who request them. One full-size gown will make eight to 10 burial dresses.
For more information about volunteering your services as a seamstress, donating a wedding gown of any vintage, making a monetary donation or additional information about The Tiny 2 Giraffe Project, call Stacy, 816-550-7864, or Amy, 816-507-9927. More information is available on their Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/acqasep
As for the future, Stacy and Amy say the project will continue with its mission of taking care of the needs of bereaved moms.
“As we grow and if we can increase our volunteer base, we may branch out to additional hospitals. But I can’t see us saying, ‘We are done.’
Keep up the good work, Stacy, Amy and all you volunteers. Your humanitarian efforts are making a big difference in the lives of so many moms. May God bless your efforts.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.