Ohio University’s Baby Bag Project by GHHS helps local mothers and their infants

OU Gold Humanism Honor Society chapter works to address the state’s high infant mortality and health inequities through baby supplies and personal stories

Members of the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) at Ohio University created a storytelling and baby bag pilot project to support local mothers and address the state’s high infant mortality rate and health inequities. The baby bag idea sprung from the Finnish government’s delivery of free baby boxes to expectant mothers starting in the late 1930s. For GHHS member Alicia Rodgers, DO, MS, PGY-1 resident, the calculation was simple. “Healthy moms beget healthy babies,” she explained.

According to the 2019 Infant Mortality Annual Report by the Ohio Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, Ohio is in the bottom quartile of U.S. states for infant mortality with 6.9 infant deaths per 100,000. 2019 CDC data showed that the Black infant mortality rate was 14.3; Black infants were more than 2.8 times more likely to die than white infants.

OU medical students volunteered along with OBB leadership for baby bag assembly.

Dr. Rodgers and her fellow GHHS leadership team members Drs. Ziyue Wang and Saron Checkole modeled the “Ohio Baby Bag Project,” after the Finnish example and swapped the use of boxes for bags instead. The project was supported by a $1500 grant from the Gold Foundation. With the help of volunteers, 21 baby bags each with $250 worth in supplies were distributed through partner organizations.

The pilot project employs a two-pronged approach. The first prong is centered around storytelling as a powerful mechanism for driving awareness about the disparities that impact many expectant mothers in underserved communities within Ohio, particularly during the perinatal period. Dr. Rodgers and her team members know that stories connect people, which creates empathy and helps drive change. After they receive their baby bags, mothers are interviewed in non-clinical settings like churches. By sharing their stories, which are included along with photos in future bags, they are helping to bring “truth and connection” to other mothers.

One such participant was new mother Jessica “Kika” C. Ms. C finds beauty in the little things. “My favorite thing about being a mom, a first-time mom, is that smile,” she said, in her story that was included in other baby bags. “Even when in the morning, it assures you that you’re needed, and it brings you so much smile and joy to wake up to such a sweet face.”

The second prong of the project is the baby bags themselves, which are designed to help with the financial strain that can arise with infant care needs. The bags include such items as thermometers, diapers, baby wipes, diaper changing bags, dental health supplies, breast milk storage bags, and much more. The bags also contain educational and resource information for expectant mothers.

“The GHHS chapter at Ohio University has created a beautiful project to support and connect new mothers and their babies,” said Louisa Tvito, Director of GHHS and Program Initiatives at the Gold Foundation. “These GHHS members embodied the mission of humanism in healthcare by identifying an urgent need in their own community and responding with compassion.”

Two OU volunteers, along with co founder, Dr. Saron Checkole (far right), stand surrounded by supplies for baby bags.

Looking ahead, the project is poised to enter a new phase. Dr. Rodgers explained, “As we look to what is next for our project, my hope and goal is for us to be intentional in broadening our outreach and local service.”

Dr. Rodgers and her team are developing a research angle and smaller, more specific focus for their work through the use of feedback data and retrospective needs assessment in their pilot area. Partnering with community organizations to minimize the gaps in access, care and medical literacy remains a key objective of the project. The hope is that the project will evolve from a focus on addressing infant mortality to the joint area of maternal and infant health. The team’s vision includes refilling the baby bags and providing new services like mom-mom peer coaching.

Learn more on the Ohio Baby Bag Instagram page, and you can contact the leadership of the Ohio Baby Bag project via email at ohiobabybag@gmail.com.

Irene Zampetoulas, MPA

Communications Associate

Supports the Foundation's marketing and communications initiatives, including writing stories, updating social media, crafting our messages, and more.