The bad news is that one of every eight babies in North Carolina is born premature — defined as less than 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
But the good news is that efforts are ongoing to make a difference, including roughly 500 people hitting the pavement at the Emily B. Taylor Greenway in Mount Airy Saturday morning for the annual March for Babies.
Veterans Memorial Park was alive with energy and excitement as members of about 40 teams representing businesses, schools, medical facilities and other entities across Surry County gathered for the premier fundraising event of the March of Dimes locally.
They were folks of all ages who wore T-shirts of every color in the rainbow to proudly represent their teams. Those groups had conducted a number of individual charitable efforts toward achieving an overall goal of $74,000 for research on birth defects, infant mortality and premature births and to help families affected.
Yet Saturday’s gathering was not all about the money, which was generated through activities such as bake sales, bingo, raffles and individual contributions.
“It is a visible show of support,” said Valerie Parker, who was heading a team of about 11 Surrey Bank & Trust employees from its offices around the county who were wearing purple.
“We raised money in our branches — we all donated money and then we did a bake sale and a 50-50 raffle,” she said of efforts by bank employees to generate funds.
The largest group of walkers present Saturday was Team Ashton, which included representatives of Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corp. and Surry Central High School, wearing light-green T-shirts. It also was one of the main corporate fundraising groups for the occasion, with top honors for that going to Northern Hospital of Surry County with $11,202 generated.
Team Ashton raised about $4,300 for the cause, which was personal for one of its members, Casey Puckett, whose daughter Ashton was born at 29 weeks gestation in December 2014.
The March of Dimes provided medication to Ashton “that basically saved her life,” Casey Puckett said as the now-robust child looked around at the crowd from the secure perch of her dad Ben’s arms. Her group was there due to the need to raise money to help other babies, the mother explained.
A somber element of Saturday’s event was a bulletin board display on the park grounds showing March of Dimes “Angels,” which contained photos and brief descriptions of babies who didn’t survive as result of birth problems.
But the success stories seemed to be more in the spotlight, including an onstage appearance by Aubreigh Harrold and her mother Tiffany, who formed the 2016 ambassador family for the March for Babies along with father Kevin.
Aubreigh was born at 25 weeks gestation in 2013.
“Now she’s big, as you can see,” Tiffany Harrold told the gathering during a brief program before the march began while holding Aubreigh.
Need is ongoing
Ashly Lancaster of Northern Hospital of Surry County, who chaired the 2016 March for Babies, agreed that the annual event is important because of the need to aid others who’ll face similar circumstances.
“We’re here today to help fund the continued work of the March of Dimes,” Lancaster said from the stage.
“Premature births affect everybody, not just the baby,” she added of a problem that also can impact grandparents, extended family members and friends — and society at large due to the vast financial and other resources required for treatment.
That was evident with the Surrey Bank & Trust contingent led by Parker in taking part in the march. “We’ve done it in the past, but this year it was even more special because Aubreigh is the granddaughter of one of our co-workers,” she said.
Special recognition was conferred Saturday on a longtime March of Dimes supporter, Esther Easter of Mount Airy.
“She’s walked 40-plus years,” said Jamie Southern, a community director with the Triad office of the March of Dimes in Winston-Salem who is involved with organizing events in Mount Airy and elsewhere in the region. Saturday marked the final walk for Easter, who has generated vast sums for the organization over the years.
“Her first year, she raised $66,” Southern said, and this year Easter produced $5,600 for the campaign, including through bingo games.
“She’s been fighting for babies for a long time,” Southern said.
After the special recognitions and remarks, it was time for the hundreds in attendance to hit the greenway adjoining Veterans Memorial Park for a 3.5-mile jaunt.
Walkers had the opportunity to warm up with Zumba sessions at the park beforehand as music blared from a sound system.
Finally the throng headed to the greenway — including a number of parents pushing healthy babies in strollers.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.