Creating a welcome for new babies

Baby Box Queenstown Lakes Charitable Trust founding trustees Jan Maxwell (left) and Vanessa van...
Baby Box Queenstown Lakes Charitable Trust founding trustees Jan Maxwell (left) and Vanessa van Uden (second left) with the first recipients of the new, free, Baby Box, Sarah O’Donnell, daughter Imogen, and husband Blair O’Donnell, at the September launch. To date more than 70 boxes have been handed out to new parents. Photo: Riverlea Photography
When former Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden attended a presentation in Wellington in 2015 where the results of a workshop aiming to tackle poverty were shared, she had a lightbulb moment. It was Baby Box.  Queenstown reporter Tracey Roxburgh talks to Ms van Uden about the initiative and her hopes for its future.

Three years ago, former Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden was invited to Wellington to hear the outcomes from a Tackling Poverty workshop, run by The McGuinness Institute.

One idea mooted was the Baby Box, which originated  in Finland in 1938.

That box is government-funded and provided to all new mothers if they have visited a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic within the first four months of their pregnancy.

The box is fitted with a mattress and doubles as a bassinet.  It is  packed full of things for a new baby and  mother.

The idea struck a chord with Ms van Uden, who organised another Tackling Poverty workshop in Queenstown, held in April 2016.

"One of the things I’d said to Wendy [McGuinness, McGuinness Institute chief executive] was I thought all of the recommendations were too full of somebody else doing something.

"I’m a firm believer that answers come from communities, so I said ‘we’ll do the Baby Box’."

Ms van Uden, Jan Maxwell and Sandra Stoddart were the founding trustees of Baby Box Queenstown Lakes Charitable Trust, formed in May 2016, and were quickly joined by Mandy Kennedy and Michael Rewi.

The first boxes were delivered in  September.

"That’s literally how long it’s taken us," Ms van Uden said.

"In between times we’ve got some funding and a whole lot of people knitting ...  we thought there are lots of things this community can do to actually make it cheaper."

Each box costs about $250 and the birth figures for the Queenstown Lakes indicate about 500 a year will  be needed.

Funding to date has been provided by the Central Lakes Trust, Community Trust of Southland and SkyCity, as well as individual donors.

Boxes contain knitted booties, either a singlet or a cardigan and a hat, as well as either a knitted blanket or a quilt provided by Queenstown Quilters and Patchworkers.

Other items include a book  by the late Alma Stevenson, Craig Smith or Ruth De Reus, a muslin wrap, reusable nappies and breast pads, sanitary pads, a stretch and grow and a merino sleep sack.

Ms van Uden said BabyStart co-founder Phil Horrobin, of Auckland, had been "so helpful" in lending his support to the Queenstown initiative.

BabyStart is a similar concept. However, those boxes are sold for $750 and for that a second box is  delivered to someone in need.

Ms van Uden said one of the biggest challenges the Queenstown trust faced was finding the right material for the boxes and getting them printed.

"Phil let us use their box design and helped us get their printers.

"We’ve got all the support numbers on the lids  ...  It’s an alternative to a bassinet ...  and a safe place for a baby to sleep."

New parents also received a free 12-month membership to St John, which provided free ambulances if required, and other items such as library memberships.

Ms van Uden said ultimately the goal was to connect new parents with others in the community, like the knitters and quilters, to build more support systems, particularly for those who did not have family in the district.

"That’s the real power ...  it’s something to say there are other people that care."

To date about 70 boxes have been delivered in Queenstown, either provided by midwives once a baby has arrived, at ante-natal classes about a month before the baby is due, or through direct contact or personal recommendations.

This year the scheme would roll out into Wanaka and, longer-term, there would be a focus on sustainable funding, Ms van Uden said.

"This needs to go on for generations, in my book; it needs to go on forever.

"My ultimate dream is that we have an amount of people who make an automatic payment, every year of $250, because while we can apply to trusts they all ...  say ‘we’re really keen; this is a wonderful thing, but you need a sustainable source of income and we won’t do this forever for you’, which is quite right.

"We’ve been very fortunate to date, but we need to focus on finding our [benefactors] ... that become our lifelong supporters."

Ms van Uden said  the reaction to the free boxes had been incredible.

"They’re all blown away, really.

"We’ve had some beautiful messages from people who are just very, very grateful and can’t believe the community’s doing it.

"The community has been amazing in that way, as Queenstown always is," she said.

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