"The Preemie Project" providing a loving touch to babies in Iowa NICU's

Published: Dec. 1, 2019 at 7:51 PM CST
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St. Luke’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Cedar Rapids is a full house during this time of the year.

The hospital will be home for a while for newcomers in the world like Eleanor Grace.

“She was born at 28 weeks and four days,” said Dixie Sandlin, Eleanor Grace’s mom. “We’ve had quite the NICU journey.”

Babies born that tiny and early are called “preemies.”

“It’s pretty nerve-wracking because we'd love to have her home,” said Sandlin.

But, making the time in their home away from home a little brighter came a surprise donation bringing smiles and warmth.

“We are donating pumpkin hats, turkeys, pilgrims, and anything that’s Thanksgiving-themed, just to give a little bit of brightness into the world for the families that are experiencing the stress of a NICU stay," said Linda Aker, The Preemie Project Board President.

The volunteers of "The Preemie Project” made the donation that came from their recent Thanksgiving drive.

"It just brings light on the whole situation, having her be able to dress up and look like a normal baby even with the cords around her," said Sandlin.

Volunteers make and donate anything from holiday hats, booties, costumes, bedding and more for babies in NICU’s across the state.

“We do a Fourth of July and Cy-Hawk donation and a big Halloween donation," said Aker.

Linda Aker is the now the leader behind the loving gestures, but it actually started with her daughter and friends in college, before she took over.

“I was so struck by the kindness and the goodness and generosity of charity crafters and the women and men that will make these items and send them,” she said.

Nearly, 15 years later, it's grown from family and friends to volunteers from all over the country.

“We sometimes receive donations from other countries, and from military wives stationed overseas with their husbands," Aker said.

Aker’s home is their workshop - where much of the knitting, sewing, cutting fabric - you name it -happens.

One Friday in November, they were making crib sheets for the babies.

“It’s very fulfilling. I feel for the families going through the hard time,” said Mary-Anne Sheets, one of the volunteers.

Mary-Anne Sheets and Linda Murphy are part of the core group of volunteers locally. They’ve both been making items for Iowa families for nearly a decade.

"They always wonder who made the items, and I hear, “Oh you’re one of those ladies,” so that brings a joy to know they appreciate and want to know where it comes from," said Murphy.

No matter where it comes from the families know it’s sent with love to those who need it most.

And for that reason, Aker says their work won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

“I don't know how long I'll be doing this, but it’ll be many more years," she said.

Volunteers are currently working on a Christmas Donation and needing themed hats, and booties to be donated.

If you'd like to help those little ones out, visit their website “The Preemie Project” or email

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