Hyde Parker’s nonprofit, started during COVID, gives new mothers in need ‘baby boxes’ with infant essentials | Local News

The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago marked a big change, as businesses struggled to survive and the stay-at-home order forced people to stay indoors. For one Hyde Parker who noticed how the struggles of expectant mothers were made more difficult by the crisis, the pandemic led her to launch a new nonprofit.

Jamie Taratoot, 37, is the founder and executive director of EveryMom Chicago, an organization that provides baby supplies to those in need. Taratoot, a mother of two with a background in project management and volunteer work, says that she founded the initiative after meeting a 22-year-old woman expecting her first child in 2020. 

“She had lost her job due to a pregnancy-related illness, her husband had lost his job because he was a food service worker, and it was literally the start of the pandemic,” she recalled. “So you remember, like, everything shut down. And she was facing some housing instability.”

Taratoot saw a Facebook post from the woman, who said that she was in need of a car seat, and decided to donate hers. Taratoot also spoke with the woman, who said she didn’t have anything she needed as a first-time mother. “When you’re having your first child, there’s also a discrepancy between what you think you need and what you actually need. You don’t realize that some things are more valuable than others,” said Taratoot.

After reaching out to the local parent community in Hyde Park, Taratoot said she was able to round up some supplies for the mother and was shocked at the overwhelmingly helpful response she received upon asking for donations. She found herself doing the same thing for a few other women — eventually, she founded EveryMom.

“I couldn’t find anybody at the time in the U.S. that was doing it — I’ve since found an organization in New York that does something similar,” she said. “But basically, there are lots of organizations that provide baby things or kid things, but nobody had a ready-to-go kit of like, here are the essentials you need to bring a baby home. And in other countries, it’s a public health initiative.” 

Governments in Finland and Scotland give new mothers a “baby box” containing essential items to take care of their newborns. 

“No matter what your circumstances are, every mother gets one. It’s like everybody starting off motherhood with the same stuff. Nobody’s ever starting off on the same foot, but it’s trying to create more equality in that experience and it’s regardless of economic circumstance,” said Taratoot.

EveryMom seeks to fulfill this need in Chicago by providing those in need with a to-go kit that includes items not only for their new baby but for breastfeeding and postpartum as well. The group distributes primarily on the South and West sides — the most boxes are given out in Washington Park, South Shore, Auburn Gresham, Roseland, Austin, Garfield Park and West Ridge. 

Taratoot spent time reaching out to social workers, health workers, and other nonprofits to get an idea of where to start and what to include in the newborn kits. The EveryMom kits include baby clothes for 0-6 months for a variety of seasons, thermometers, diaper rash cream and other everyday items that newborns need, including safe sleep information.

“SIDS — Sudden Infant Death Syndrome — unsurprisingly the rates are highest on the South and West sides of the city. So anything we can do to kind of promote safe sleep practices (goes inside the kit),” said Taratoot. 

The kits also include a local resource guide to show mothers how they can access free support within their community — where to get free diapers, formula, lactation support, childcare, counseling, housing assistance and domestic violence support. 

“I try to think holistically about what are the different challenges these women might be facing, and connect them to those types of resources in the community. So that’s the other piece that I feel is really important, because motherhood can be really isolating as well,” said Taratoot. 

Growing up without a mother, Taratoot said the information she’s providing for new mothers is something that she wished she had on her journey to becoming a mom. She’s glad she can help people in need now. 

“I felt very unprepared for motherhood. And there was just so much I didn’t know and it would have been really helpful to have had like, hey, here’s what you need. And also just to feel supported in that way.”

Though she started off with donations from other parents, EveryMom has now secured corporate sponsors such as NEB Medical, Medela, Halo, and Lurie’s Children Hospital, something that Taratoot is grateful for. 

The nonprofit also partners with other local nonprofits and hospitals throughout Hyde Park, Kenwood and Bronzeville to distribute the kits, including HelloBaby, Advocate Health Care and UChicago Medicine. The organization, which is entirely volunteer-run, currently has a waitlist of partners who want the kits.

“We’re at a point where there’s so much demand that we can’t meet it at the moment. We’re at a really big growth point. And so this year is all about figuring out how to scale up,” said Taratoot. “Last year we did kits for 100 families. This year the goal is 300.”

Taratoot, who has been assembling the kits from her basement, said the group is currently looking for a physical location.

“It’s not ideal to have people coming into my basement, especially if we want to do a large group of volunteers, which would be great,” she said. “So we’re trying to find a space where we can not only store and assemble the kits, but also have volunteers come in and do a volunteer day, or come in for an hour and pack baby kits.”