They say it takes a village to raise a child, but for many new immigrant and American parents, who could be far from their friends and families, it can be difficult to find that support.
Last week, United Way of Greater Nashua organized a community baby shower that brought together expecting mothers, fathers, and families with small children. Liz Fitzgerald, director of the United Way of Greater Nashua community impact, says the organization wants to give families who might feel alone a hand in starting their new journey to parenthood.
“We want to let them know that the community is also celebrating the arrival of their child,” she said.
As the celebration kicked off last Wednesday, 79 families waited excitedly for the volunteers to call their names for them to pick a gift from a raffle. There were car seats, cribs, strollers, and more. All were donated by people and private companies in the community.
The nonprofit partnered with the Greater Nashua Smart Start Coalition, which focuses on young families with children from birth to age 8. Their objective is to build stronger families and a system of care through other agencies.
“We can help build connections, not only between the agencies and them, but also between parents before their kids reach the kindergarden,” said Fitzgerald.
A volunteer rang a bell and called Talita Sonsini, originally from Brazil. She shouted enthusiastically, and then chose a feeding chair and baby books. An interpreter from the Nashua health department translated for her.
“I never imagined living this; it is such a pleasure to get this gift,” she said as the other mothers cheered for her.
As some parents enjoyed the good weather, mingling and eating hamburgers that the circle of fathers prepared, others visited the stands of resources.
St Joseph Hospital and the city health department brought their mobile clinics. Mothers could listen to their children’s heartbeat or get free lead testing and vision and hearing check-ups. Staff from Southern New Hampshire Health taught parents how to put their babies safely to sleep. There were also specialists offering information about nutrition, maternal and mental health services, scholarship programs, job training, economic advisory, and quick lessons on parenting.
Zaira Tejada carried her 8-month-old daughter as she listened to one of those lessons. A Hudson police officer showed her how to use a car seat correctly; it was the first time she had ever been taught how. She is from El Salvador and arrived in the U.S. six months ago; her church pastor invited her to the baby shower. United Way reached out to local organizations – like hospitals, churches or transitional housing programs – to spread the word about their work.
“It is amazing to meet other Latino mothers in my situation,” Tejada said.
Tejada said while she found the event an opportunity to make new friends, she was most interested in learning how to get health insurance since she can’t apply for Medicaid.
United Way also put together in the basement of their offices a baby boutique. Women came out carrying heavy bags of clothes. Some blankets, hats, and sweaters were knit by the community.
But mothers and fathers could also choose clothes for them. Tejada had her eyes on a pair of blue boots.
Alicia Tolentino, from Brazil, received a laptop. She has two daughters, 5 and 9 years old, and is expecting another child. She says she needed one to sign up for programs and had difficulties buying her own computer. She also got a stroller.
“I feel welcomed,” she said.
Zaid Tuige came looking for resources for his newborn nephew. He and his mother, Kelly Gibson, care for the baby since the child’s father struggles with homelessness. She has used many resources to raise her children in the past but was happy to see how many more are available now. After they selected outfits for the baby, they picked a bunch of purple flowers donated by a supermarket.
“That’s very considerate, thank you,” he said to the volunteers.
Fitzgerald says the event is a reminder that people feel at home when the community comes together in love and generosity.