In the hot morning air, the crowd began marching. With each step, the column of people rang hundreds of bells as they made their slow way through Gainesville.
“We ring the bells to make noise, and celebrate that we are alive,” said March of Dimes volunteer Marilyn Delgado. “The silence before the walk is to remember the babies who didn’t make it.”
Nearly 700 people gathered Saturday at The Longstreet Clinic to support the Hall County March of Dimes, and raise awareness for the work it does.
The March of Dimes, created in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to combat polio, has since been transformed into a social support network that spans the nation. Today, the organization is dedicated to funding research and raising community awareness of the illnesses that affect mothers and infants daily.
Research done by the March of Dimes shows that more than 16,000 premature babies are born in Georgia every year. But from 2006 to 2014, that number of preterm births dropped by 10 percent.
At the annual March for Babies event, marchers trekked a mile-long loop around the Brenau University campus three times before returning to the clinic for refreshments provided by Publix.
The March of Dimes has been marching in Gainesville for more than 20 years, and though the march route has changed over the years, Delgado thinks the event has grown stronger.
“The walk has changed and waned with the economy,” Delgado said. “But over the past few years, we have been able to build it up with new committee members and team members, making it a social event.”
Delgado got involved with the March of Dimes two decades ago and has stuck with it because of her family of healthy children.
“I was fortunate enough not to need them,” Delgado said, “I have seven grandchildren ages 12-2, and my heart hurts to see a child who is that tiny.”
Each year, the March of Dimes invites local businesses and organizations to team up and walk together. The Longstreet Clinic and Publix of Hall County have sponsored the march for more than 20 years. Publix alone has raised 57 million dollars for the charity in the last 21 years.
In addition to the sponsors, who provide food and entertainment before the march, each year an ambassador family is chosen to speak about their experience with The March of Dimes. This year’s family included mother Sheri Miller and her twin sons Zane and Jarrett Buffington, who were born prematurely in December 2014.
Miller said she is confident that without the support of the March of Dimes and the neonatal intensive care unit, her boys wouldn’t have made it.
“I can’t wait until my children are old enough to understand that there were so many people working so hard for them, with every breath they took,” Miller said. “They will never understand how much love has been poured into them from everyone.”
For this season of fundraising, the March of Dimes, is trying to raise at least $120,000. Lori Allen, March of Dimes Senior Development Manager, said the effort is three-fourths of the way toward reaching that goal.
“This was fantastic. The best walk ever. I am so pleased,” Allen said. “It was a like a huge block party.”
She explained that 75 cents of every dollar raised by the March of Dimes goes toward grants for training and research by institutions like Emory, Georgia State and University of Georgia, and towards advocating for policies that affect the health of women and babies. In 2015, the March of Dimes invested $25 million in research grants and $5 million in outreach to communities all over the United States.
Allen said the focus is on this sort of community outreach, not just to spread awareness that affects mothers and children but to create a supportive community for families. She explained that often, mothers with premature or sick children feel totally alone with limited support.
“Just knowing that someone is out there, and has walked in their shoes makes all the difference,” Allen said.