Black Infant Health: Food and Toys Help Moms Stress Less
By Dianne Anderson
Coming out of the Thanksgiving feast, the Long Beach Black Infant Health Program and partners are teaming up to make sure local moms can make it through the holidays with a little less stress.
For Gwendolyn Manning, there is no time to rest from now until Christmas.
BIH moms receive food staples, toys, clothing and a gift card, and there is more to come. The program is bustling to meet the need and provide age-appropriate gifts for the kids, which has become a tradition over the years in tandem with the local chapter NCNW.
Through BIH, she said families that have turned to them for support during the holidays are identified, and then their partners and organizations come to the rescue.
But compared to past years, she said nothing is normal lately. Many families that were teetering at the brink of housing insecurity before the pandemic now face more uncertainty, not to mention the typical stress of pregnancy and poverty.
Some of their participating moms are new to the services, and many are pregnant or postpartum moms.
“All these things are very much impacting the lives of our women, particularly perinatal women, and those that delivered babies during the pandemic. Post-pandemic, there’s elevated stressors [on top of] being a mom,” said Manning, BIH Program Coordinator with the city of Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services.
Single parent moms with multiple children are up against combined economic and psychological trauma just trying to navigate health and social services at the worst time in history, but having support systems like their NCNW Christmas Giveaway offers relief this time of year.
For starters, moms don’t have to worry about how to afford dinner, or how to get a gift for their children.
Last year, the California Department of Public Health awarded the city’s Health and Human Services Department a $1,000,000 grant, a two-year grant which Manning pulled down to develop and implement a statewide BIH public awareness campaign.
And she is concerned that of all the disparities of Black Infant Health, she said the greatest irony is that Black women remain at the highest risk for complications within the race-biased medical system. The data shows it has little to do with poverty.
Black moms with high incomes fare far worse than lower-income white moms. Black women continue to die over twice the rate of death during childbirth than white women, even when their lifestyles are completely the same. Black babies also continue to die at over twice the number of white babies in cities across America.
Each year, Manning’s program enrolls about 90 women and provides case management and services for up to 120 a year. Their recent launch statewide promotional BIH campaign has created an increase and interest in local enrollments.
“Our program exists as a way to provide social support and empowerment for Black women to reduce her risk factors that she suffers as a result of income and social status, education, employment, working conditions, the physical environment she lives in,” Manning said.
This year, the Long Beach Chapter NCNW said they are providing toys for about 250-300 children.
Denise Hayes, chair of the local chapter NCNW Annual Toy Drive, said they can always use more toys, and will not turn any donations away.
“They fill out an application, ages of the children and we provide toys by age for boys and girls. Many families don’t have transportation. The rest will probably drive through and pop up the trunk, they don’t have to get out of the car,” said
NCNW, known for its community outreach nationwide, has continued involvement through COVID-19, all while keeping their distance. One of their big projects that ran for about three months during the pandemic included providing hot meals to the night shift emergency room doctors and nurses.
“When the pandemic was really out there last year, we were providing meals. We didn’t go inside, we just dropped them off at a certain area in the back of the hospital and left,” she said.
Last year, they served up toys which added up to about 274 children, but she thinks this year will be more. She said they are also excited to partner with the Long Beach Community Improvement League to get gifts out to the kids.
The event is also not her first rodeo. She has served 19 years as the chair of the toy drive.
“We hear about so much going on in the world today,” she said. “I just like to put a smile on a kid’s face and get a toy under the tree, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what we’re doing to help those that are having a hard time right now.”
To participate in the BIH programs, call (562) 570-4323
or see, www.longbeach.gov/health/services/directory/black-infant-health/
To donate to LB-NCNW, call 562-423-2575