FORT POLK, La. -- Babies need lots of stuff and parents do their best to provide for their new bundles of joy, but a little help never hurts. After all, Fort Polk's Families are expanding. Babies are being delivered every month, sometimes while husbands are deployed.

That's why the Fort Polk Layette Program, situated at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, works to provide some of the necessities parents and the newest members of their Families will require.

Layette is a French word that means "kit for baby" and the layette bags put together by program volunteers are filled with almost everything a new baby needs. The list includes diapers, wet wipes, baby lotion and wash, a sleeper, receiving blanket, outfit, onesie, pair of socks, newborn cap and some type of bonus item such as a wash cloth, towel, shoes or a children's book.

"The program provides a welcome baby gift bag to Soldiers (E4 and under) delivering at BJACH," said Shannon Prairie, the driving force and lead volunteer behind the Layette Program.

The Layette Program relies solely on donations. Prairie said it's only through the generosity of the community and organizations such as the Fort Polk Thrift Shop, Fort Polk Main Post Exchange, Fort Polk Spouses' Club and more that the Layette Program can put together these gift bags. "There are a number of groups that continually support the program year after year, but we wouldn't have survived this past year without the generous donations from the Thrift Shop," said Prairie. "Every item, donation and drive is appreciated, but our needs have grown and the continued assistance of our supporters old and new is needed now more than ever."

The reason for this need, according to Prairie, is Fort Polk's baby boom. "There was a lot of buzz about all the babies being born in the community, so we got a lot of donations. At one point 40 or 50 bags a month were going out. Then 162nd Infantry Battalion moved here and our numbers didn't drop off like we thought they would. We continued to deliver 30 to 40 baby bags each month for a whole year. This month we are supposed to put out 60, so we just keep getting bigger," said Prairie.

Even individuals can help by being shoppers. "If folks wait until prices drop down to $1 on things like newborn, 0-3 month or 3-6 month boy and girl clothing, sleepers and blankets, they can buy them and the Layette Program will reimburse them," said Prairie.

"I'm always looking for a good deal on baby clothes. I make sure they're in good condition. If they don't look faded or have only been used once or twice, I wash them, fold them and bring them to BJACH," said Christie Smith, another layette volunteer.

By speaking to organizations in the community, the layette program has gotten the word out and new groups have begun to donate. "It just keeps trickling down. It's really pretty amazing when we think we are running out of donations and suddenly we'll get a huge donation and we know we are still hanging in there. It's all these little groups that want to contribute and help keep us going.
Every organization, whatever they contribute, adds up to us being able to complete a gift bag," said Prairie.

Prairie understands how hard it is to have a child in these tough economic times. "We have our sponsors and contributors listed on the outside of every bag and that lets people know there are some new and gently used items. I wish everything could be new, but that's just not possible.

"There's a lot of value in this gift bag and many people don't have a lot of money right now," said Prairie.

Though there's no direct interaction between volunteers and recipients, Prairie said she feels that giving this gift is an act of kindness that's important to the Families of Fort Polk. "I enjoy that aspect of it," said Prairie.

Smith said sometimes Fort Polk moms don't have the opportunity to enjoy the attention that comes when a baby is born because they are away from their families. "It's nice to be able to show people that we are thinking of them and want to help them out. I think that's especially important when they have a baby and their husbands and family aren't here. To me, that's tough," said Smith.

A drop box for layette donations is located at the Main Post Chapel. "That has been a huge success for us. People going to church just drop donations off. The hospital is another logical place for a drop off because this is where people come to have the babies. So BJACH has approved two drop boxes and they should be installed at both entrances soon," said Prairie.

For more information about donating or volunteering call 537-3976 or (337) 202-1391.