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Sharp Health News

Donated clothes serve as a gentle hug

Jan. 9, 2017

Donated clothes serve as a gentle hug

Katie Maldonado, licensed clinical social worker at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, and Miles Hildebrand, pharmacy manager at Sharp Chula Vista, deliver Gently Hugged bags to hospital patients.

A mother-to-be who was going into labor too soon arrived at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center for help and to deliver her baby. In need of financial and social support, she began planning for their new life together with little else but the clothes on her back, with no idea what to do to clothe her baby. Then angels arrived — in the form of Gently Hugged and Sharp Chula Vista’s social workers.

Gently Hugged is a San Diego-based, nonprofit organization formed in 2012. Founded by Judy Blackford and Nancy Sweeny, both retired San Diego nurses, the two women joined together after noticing the need for newborn clothing in their years of work.

“Working in the area of public health, we witnessed many mothers and fathers struggling to acquire the basic necessities of life for their newborn babies, and few resources were available to provide such support,” says Blackford. “In contrast, other babies have an excess of clothing during this same time period, with many items only worn once or twice, or never used at all, before they are outgrown. That’s when we formed Gently Hugged and began collecting donated clothes.”

The organization is run completely by volunteers who collect gently used or new clothing in preemie to 12-month sizes, donated blankets, new books and handmade items. Once donated, the clothes are washed, sorted and folded. Items of each size sufficient for the baby’s first year are placed in an attractive bag labeled for a “boy” or “girl,” along with books and handmade gifts.

The completed bags are then delivered to hospitals and social service agencies across San Diego County; Sharp Chula Vista is the first Sharp-affiliated hospital currently partnered with Gently Hugged.

“Gently Hugged is providing a service like none other in the San Diego area,” says Katie Maldonado, licensed clinical social worker at Sharp Chula Vista. “These bags provide clothing that ensures warmth and security for a baby who might otherwise go without.”

Each bag of clothing, books and blankets weighs approximately 12 pounds. To date, Gently Hugged has donated 2,000 bags to families in need across San Diego, with 32 bags given to families at Sharp Chula Vista.

Gently Hugged bags are delivered directly to Sharp Chula Vista’s Social Services Department in the women’s and infants’ unit, which are then distributed to families based on their individual needs and circumstances. The Social Services Department also receives support through generous donations from Sharp Chula Vista’s Auxiliary, which allows the Social Services team to provide knitted hats and blankets, along with diapers, wipes, car seats and more to families in need.

“These generous donations of time and money from so many different groups allow us to provide support for babies whose families are struggling,” explains Maldonado. “Without groups like Gently Hugged or programs like Sharp Chula Vista’s Auxiliary, we would not be able to provide such special acts of care and support like we do every day.”

For the news media: To talk with Katie Maldonado about the Gently Hugged program for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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