When the idea came to Susanna VanVickle to give gift baskets outside of local abortion businesses to pregnant women who chose life, it was not her intent to start a ministry.
In fact, she was certain that her first calling was as a wife and a mother. And yet, as God would have it, the baskets in many ways have combined VanVickle’s zeal for pro-life work and her love for her family.
Having moved with her husband and kids to the Dallas area last fall, VanVickle was searching for some type of pro-life ministry that would involve her and her three boys. She and her sons began with sidewalk counseling for a couple of hours each week.
When she met a young mother named Crystal who along with her boyfriend decided to keep their baby, VanVickle couldn’t get the mom-to-be off her mind. She was excited about Crystal’s decision and wanted to help support her throughout her nine months.
“The idea came to me to have something to give mothers like Crystal to encourage and support them in their pregnancy,” recalls VanVickle. “While lots of pregnancy centers give out diapers and baby clothes, I wanted these moms to be excited about the pregnancy right now.”
After praying several days over the gift brainstorm, she e-mailed several friends to see what they thought. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
“That’s when I decided to pursue this idea in earnest,” she says.
In January, VanVickle and friends put together the first packages — in bags. But, as the donated items piled up, the group traded in the bags for baskets.
The name Loving Life Baskets seemed an appropriate fit for the fledgling organization.
“I hope these baskets say to the new moms that there is a group of women out there who care about you,” says VanVickle. “Our mission in giving these baskets is to love the life of each of these moms.”
Anna Dunikoski can attest to the beauty of each Loving Life basket. She and her husband have opened a spot in their home as a storage space for the numerous items that make up each gift package.
“I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the baskets,” says Dunikoski, noting that the beneficiaries receive not just token trinkets but, rather, useful items such as blankets, skin cream, lotions and pregnancy books in both English and Spanish.
The source of the windfall: generous donors.
When VanVickle sent out another e-mail to some of her friends appealing for basket items, she was surprised once again by the response. “Before I knew it I had received $3,000 in donations and all kinds of other goodies.”
Dunikoski says the majority of the items come in from the Dallas area and it is usually one or two people who pick up and bring the bulk of the items over to her house.
“It has been fun to see how one person’s idea has so many people involved,” adds Dunikoski. “People are willing to help if you just ask them.”
The Dunikoski home has also been the site of several basket-assembly gatherings. While kids play, moms put together each basket with a personal touch. Over the last several months, they have averaged around 50 baskets at each gathering.
For VanVickle the most important part of each basket is a hand-written note that stresses to the mom that pregnancy is a special time. It also expresses that, when the going gets tough, a group of caring moms is “there for you.”
Joanne Underwood couldn’t agree more that the Loving Life baskets have been a blessing to her work on the front lines of the battle for life. “When I first saw these baskets, I was so excited,” she says. “I knew that these would be a real gift for the women.”
Three days a week Underwood can be found outside of one of Dallas’ six abortion businesses, offering sidewalk counseling to young pregnant women. She lines up the gift baskets along the sidewalk and they often serve as a good icebreaker for the young girls who are coming for appointments.
“The baskets start a conversation,” Underwood explains. “As the girls walk by they will ask, ‘What are those?’ I tell them that those are gifts for the mothers. If they choose to keep their baby, I say, ‘Take this as a gift.’ The girls are so touched. They love it.”
Underwood says the baskets are a chance to stay in touch with the young women she meets. She has kept in contact with several moms and their new babies after handing them a Loving Life basket.
Thinking back over her eight years as a sidewalk counselor, she points to one memory as a special favorite. A young girl drove herself to the abortion business. Not too long after going inside, the girl came out and told Underwood that she had decided to keep her baby. Underwood handed her a basket. The girl thanked her, and then said: “No one has ever given me anything.”
VanVickle estimates that, since starting this project, several dozen or so baskets have been handed out throughout the Dallas area. She has no desire to incorporate the Loving Life Basket group.
“If people want to do this in their community, I would encourage them to contact their local pro-life office and tell them about the idea.”
Stated another way: No one can do everything to save babies headed for the abortionist’s machinery — but just about everyone can do something.
Eddie O’Neill writes from
Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Information and Donations Catholic Pro Life Committee Attn: Antoinette Wilson PO Box 59852 Dallas, TX 75229 prolifedallas.org