Each year, The March of Dimes’ “March for Babies” campaign raises funds to support mothers and families who have children that are born prematurely. And even as COVID-19 cases spiral upward locally, Damon Hunter, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., makes a passionate case for why people should donate to the March of Dimes’ “March for Babies” drive.
It also is a rather obvious case.
“Babies didn’t stop being born when the pandemic hit. Premature babies didn’t stop being born,” said Hunter, who is spearheading the fraternity’s local March for Babies effort. “In fact, there could be an increase (in births) because many people are staying home together (because of the pandemic).
“We stand in the gap to help those moms, babies and families that are most in need,” Hunter said.
According to the March of Dimes website, premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and its complications are the leading cause of death of babies in the U.S. In the United States, about 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year, according to the site.
Locally, the March of Dimes 2019 Report Card gave Tennessee a “D,” with a preterm birth rate of 11.1 percent. Shelby County got an “F” with a preterm birth rate of 12.5 percent.
“So this drive directly impacts the Memphis premature baby community,” Hunter said. “It shows up in the forms of research, equipment for the survival of preemie baby. The reason we raised the funds is that it’s so expensive.”
Babies who survive premature birth often have long-term health problems, including cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, chronic lung disease, blindness and hearing loss. Consequently, the infants can spend weeks or months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“Depending on how long a premature baby stays in NICU, that determines the cost,” Hunter said. “They fit in the palm of your hand, their hearts and lungs are not developed. The money we raise helps purchase equipment to help these babies breathe.”
The pandemic hasn’t slowed down Hunter and his Alpha brothers. The Alpha Phi Alpha team has raised more than $17,600 so far this year – making Alpha Delta Lambda chapter the tops in the fraternity nationwide as well as the top fundraising team in the Memphis area. They are hoping to hit their goal of $20,000 by the campaign deadline of Aug. 15.
It helped that they started early. Even though the campaign didn’t officially kick off until March, Hunter said his team started organizing in January and had raised $1,500 before getting officially underway.
“Planning and preparation were key,” he said. “Much of what we’ve been able to raise has been smaller donations, in the $5 to $50 range. But we’ve had some very generous people who gave from $50 to $200. It’s a nice mix.”
The cause is personal for Hunter. Years ago, he and his wife lost a child in utero — a child that would have needed NICU care had it not been stillborn. Now they’re raising two teenage boys, but his passion for premature health care hasn’t dimmed. “I care about communities,” Hunter said. “I care about Memphis.”
“Once people understand the impact on the families and communities of premature babies, they are more compelled to be involved – and they get involved by giving because they understand,” Hunter said.
“The pandemic shows the passion and love that the residents of Memphis have for rallying together and unifying behind a cause,” he said. “Memphis better understands the why of prematurity – better now than ever.”