Stacks Of Colorful Baby Blankets

How volunteer hours + our Foundation wrap families in love

The Wilkins family comforts 1,000 NICU babies with homemade blankets

Barbara Wilkins, a senior paralegal employee with Land O’Lakes, is someone who is passionate about helping others. She logged an astonishing 276 volunteer hours this past year, the most among Land O’Lakes employees. That number reflects just some of the time she spends volunteering at company-sponsored events, her children’s school and community programs. Through the Land O’Lakes Foundation, Barbara maximizes the impact of her volunteer time.

“The Foundation provides outstanding programs to help strengthen our communities,” she says. “Dollars for Doers rewards the organization where you volunteer with a financial contribution based on the volunteer time logged. The Foundation also matches financial donations through its Matching Gifts to Education program.”

Dollars for Doers grants are awarded after a volunteer completes the following number of volunteer hours at one organization: $100 for 16 hours of service, $250 for 50 hours of service, $500 for 100 hours of service and $1,000 for 200 hours of service.

Barbara has always embraced a volunteer service mindset; it’s no surprise that her children have as well.

“If you can involve your whole family or team in a project, you can forge new bonds while working together to help strengthen our communities” says Barbara of volunteering. “Support an organization that is meaningful to you. There are countless ways to share your time and talents.”

Like sewing baby blankets, for instance.

Wrapping babies in love

Having a baby—or babies—in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a scary time for parents. Gestures of kindness, no matter how big or small, are truly appreciated by families in the NICU. Barbara and her husband Kevin know. Their twins spent the first seven weeks of their lives in NICU at Children’s Hospital – St. Paul. Kindness arrived for them in the form of soft, cozy baby blankets, handmade by a kindhearted stranger.

These were more than just blankets. They were a comforting presence among the tubes and monitors. For mom and dad, they were an important part of bonding with their children, especially during cuddling time. By the time Gillian and Stuart left the NICU, the blankets were already an important part of the family’s life.

Today, blankets still provide comfort and support to the babies and families in the NICU. The only difference is that Gillian and Stuart, with Barbara’s support, are now the kindhearted strangers sewing blankets for these special babies.

The first stitch

“Gillian and Stuart came home from school one day with an idea for their school assigned volunteer service project,” says Barbara. “They wanted to make blankets for babies in the NICU, the way an anonymous donor did for them.”

That was six years ago, when the twins were in seventh grade. Gillian and Stuart reached out to the NICU patient care manager at the start of the project for the requirements and got to work.

At the end of the class project, the twins delivered fifty blankets to the NICU. Fifty little babies and their moms and dads went home with a precious reminder of what they overcame together.

“Each handcrafted blanket delivered to the NICU is an affirming gesture of support to the babies and their parents at a difficult and potentially traumatic time,” says Barbara, “a personal thank you to the exceptional medical professionals and a meaningful way to repay a simple kindness.”

The birth of ‘Blankets for NICU Babies’

Gillian and Stuart sewed the blankets in their family room, on a table strewn with fabric, pins and thread. Not long after the project ended, the twins were inspired to launch “Blankets for NICU Babies.” The demand quickly outgrew their table and they moved operations to a separate room, one that’s completely dedicated to sewing.

“Gillian and Stuart work summer jobs to raise money to buy fabric and other sewing supplies,” explains Barbara. “People have donated fabric to their cause. I have also supported the project and the NICU through volunteer service hours, which I’m able to log with Land O’Lakes. Through the Foundation’s Dollars for Doers grant program, my volunteer hours result in a Land O’Lakes donation to Children’s Hospital.”

Last year, Barbara donated 100 hours of her time to the NICU and 100 hours to her twins' high school. Land O'Lakes Foundation matched her commitment with a $1,000 Dollars for Doers grant, split evenly between the two organizations.

When other teens might be raking leaves for the elderly, Gillian and Stuart take turns hunching over a sewing machine. Their blanket-making process reads like a set of crisp Google Maps directions and at the end of each session sixty-four blankets sit in a neat stack on the table.

“We strive to make deliveries about three times each year,” says Barbara.

Delivery of the blankets to the NICU is the final step. Once delivered, they start over on a new set of blankets. Last year, the Wilkins family delivered 192 blankets to the NICU. Since the project started in 2010, they have made 1,000 blankets for babies and their families.

Among these blanket deliveries was a special one: Gillian and Stuart met a nurse who took care of them during their first weeks of life.

“She expressed how meaningful and supportive the blankets are to parents whose children are in the NICU,” says Barbara, her eyes misting over. “My children were so happy to meet one of the nurses who made a big difference in their lives.”

Volunteer mindset

Barbara is just one of the many Land O’Lakes employees who embodies the spirit of giving, both at work and in the community.

“We’re fortunate to have many employees and members who embody our purpose as an organization in the communities where we live and work,” says Lydia Botham, vice president of community relations for Land O’Lakes, Inc. and executive director for the Land O’Lakes Foundation. “It’s an honor for Land O’Lakes to play a role in the passion and commitment our employees have for their communities. By sharing their time, talent and dollars, employees like Barbara serve as outstanding role models and examples of what Land O’Lakes is all about—adding a little good, as we like to say, to the world around us.”