March of Dimes hopes North Florida stays No. 1
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.
When Leah Jones’ water broke at 16 weeks, she knew she was in for a delicate pregnancy. The March of Dimes made the fourth-month hospital stay at Shands at the University of Florida that followed a little bit easier for Jones, sponsoring her bi-weekly arts and crafts classes and weekly pizza parties with other mothers in the neonatal intensive care unit.
The storied organization, now in its 75th year, was founded by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to combat polio. Today the March of Dimes specializes in preventing premature births and other facets of neonatal care. On Tuesday the local chapter kicked off its annual fundraising drive, which culminates in an 8.6-mile walk in March called “March for Babies.”
Jones is spearheading a team called “Team Morgan” to raise money for the walk. Elaine Almond, another mother of a child whom the March of Dimes helped, is leading a team called “Carter Almond,” her son’s name.
Almond has been participating in the walks for seven years, ever since her son was born.
“I started because my son was born 11 weeks early, and the March of Dimes was in the NIC unit,” Almond said, adding that the organization also supported research for a drug her son took called surfactant, which keeps the lungs from collapsing.
Jones and Almond represent two family-led teams, but local businesses drive much of the fundraising efforts. Last year, the 13 local Publix grocery stores combined came in first, raising over $100,000. Shands at the University of Florida followed, with over $75,000. Collectively, local businesses and organizations raised $740,000.
The North Central Florida region — which includes Lake City, Ocala, Palatka and Gainesville — has come in first in the nation for the amount of money raised for the past 30 years, said Betsy Trent, executive director of March of Dimes for North Florida. Speaking specifically about Gainesville, Trent added, “The community is just incredibly giving. It takes pride in being number one for babies.”
This year’s March for Babies chairs for North Florida are Ed Jimenez, the chief operating officer and senior vice president of Shands, and his wife, Jennifer.
“This is one of the ways we give back to the community,” Ed Jimenez said.
Two of the Jimenezes’ children briefly spent time in an NIC unit, so he said they sympathize with the gratitude of parents who receive March of Dimes’ help.
“A community of people and a nation of babies do benefit,” he said.
More than 4 million babies are born in the U.S. each year, and one in eight is born premature. Prematurity is the leading cause of death in babies’ first month of life.
Jimenez said the March of Dimes is working with the Florida Surgeon General to reduce premature birth rates by 8 percent by 2014. The organization is sponsoring a campaign called “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait,” which aims to stop non-medically necessary elective C-sections and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy. It has also formed a task force looking into widespread prescription drug use during pregnancy.
Meanwhile, various local walking teams are primed to outpace each other in a friendly competition to raise money before the walk. Trent said a lot of people make online donations.
The March for Babies walk on March 23 will start and end at Gainesville’s Westwood Middle School.
To register for the walk or to make a donation, visit www.marchforbabies.org
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.