Hundreds of babies are sleeping better because Dick Avery is around. The great-grandfather has dedicated 13 years of his life to providing safe, cozy places for infants to rest. Since starting the Kiwanis Lend-A-Crib program, Avery’s little blue pickup has zipped throughout Spokane County, delivering cribs to more than 900 low-income households.
Many of the families are headed by young single moms. Some are so poor that their homes lack even a stick of furniture.
“Sometimes I go in and they have a couple of blankets on the floor, and the babies sleep on the floor or with their moms or brothers or sisters,” said Avery, a member of West Spokane Kiwanis.
The loaner cribs play several roles, including boosting the self-esteem of struggling moms who worry if they can provide a good life for their children, said Leyli Woodfield, a public health nurse for Spokane Regional Health District.
But the major beneficiaries are newborns who are welcomed into the world with a place of their own.
“I think they do an incredible program in the sense that it gives to the most vulnerable of our population,” Woodfield said.
The district is among a handful of health and social service agencies that contact Avery when they encounter pregnant or new moms that lack cribs.
Although Avery started the program, the project is supported by area Kiwanis chapters, which donate $4,500 annually and help with deliveries.
The money pays for new cribs purchased at a discount from Kmart Stores, and mattresses supplied at cost through Northwest Bedding Co. A set runs about $100.
Providing young moms with this essential baby item opens doors for public health nurses, who can build a rapport that lets them help moms with food and clothing and even domestic violence and safety issues, Woodfield said.
“All you need sometimes is a way to get in to help. It allows me to get a crib and, for once, someone kept a promise,” Woodfield said, adding that although she gets to be the good guy, Avery and the Kiwanis are the real heroes.
Counselors at Life Services Pregnancy Center, an agency that provides prenatal services and education for low-income women, also rely on the program.
“It’s helping because they’re trying to get started and many of them don’t have the resources. It’s wonderful to have an organization that will do this,” said Dianna Brumfield, site director.
Families borrowing cribs are given handmade baby quilts that sometimes become childhood security blankets.
Women from the Golden K Kiwanis, a group of Holman Gardens Retirement Home residents, got involved with Lend-A-Crib six years ago. Since then, the group has sewn and donated 100 baby blankets, made from fabric paid for by several Kiwanis groups.
“Babies appealed to us because they’re so precious,” said Maxine Davidson, a charter member who helps with the project.
“When they are in poverty and don’t have any place to lie, the crib situation is really a blessing,” the retired educator said.
The Kiwanian has also rallied independent volunteers, including an 86-year-old Spokane Valley woman who makes more than a dozen baby quilts each year and a friend who helps with deliveries.
When he sees young moms smoking, Avery can’t help but offer a little grandfatherly advice.
After losing two family members to emphysema and watching its devastating effects on his wife, he has strong views about parents taking chances with their babies’ health.
“I’m not worried about the girls who are smoking, it’s the babies that it’s affecting. You might say I give the gals hell,” Avery said.
Although half the cribs aren’t returned, Avery believes many are kept for additional babies or given to other needy moms.
Originally, the program used some donated cribs, but for safety concerns, he switched to a Cosco model that’s safe and easy to repair.
Cribs are stored in Avery’s North Side garage, where he cleans, assembles and makes repairs.
He relies on the Kiwanis clubs for funding to replace unreturned or older cribs and pay for parts. He wants to take a grant writing class so he can appeal to foundations for donations, which are tax deductible through the club’s Lend-A-Crib nonprofit organization.
In the process of running the program, Avery, a retired business owner, has honed his public presentation skills. He often brings along social service workers, who testify to the program’s value.
Securing funding sometimes requires a little “begging,” Avery admits, but in helping those too young to help themselves, the program may bolster an entire family.
“There are some really neat young ladies that you help and you just hope for the best.”