More than 150 volunteers who gathered at A&M Church of Christ in College Station on Friday spent hours preparing thousands of “baby bundles” for local hospitals. For the past four years, United Way of the Brazos Valley has been delivering these bundles to labor and delivery wards to help parents of newborn babies kickstart the practice of reading regularly to their little ones.

Each baby bundle provided by United Way contains a newly printed children’s picture book, a teething toy and child development pamphlets for parents.

Friday’s volunteers assembled these bundles in the church gymnasium, filling a total of 3,000 bags as part of United Way’s annual Day of Action. Both CHI St. Joseph Hospital in Bryan and Baylor Scott & White Medical Center will receive hundreds of these bundles, for both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families. Bundles also will be sent to labor and delivery centers in Brenham and Jewett. Mothers will be able to take the bundles home with their baby for free.

“The first time children are tested for reading [skill level] is the third grade, but by then it’s already too late to start [teaching them],” said Peggi Goss, local vice president of community impact for United Way.

“We want to start preparing kids before they’re in kindergarten. We have a committee where we talk about how we can get parents to start reading to their children as early as possible.”

Goss stressed it’s important for children to be introduced to reading at home by their parents, not just in school. Simply increasing access to books for children increases their literacy rate, she said. In some instances lower- and middle-income families may not have many books in the home, and United Way members want to make sure that all parents and guardians are able to find and afford books for their kids. United Way of the Brazos Valley also hosts several free book giveaways in the Bryan-College Station area each year.

Jeff Hatala, a professor with Texas A&M’s School of Public Health, is new to the local United Way board of directors and to putting together baby bundles for Day of Action. On Friday, the instructor led, not by lecturing, but by organizing the room full of volunteers to create an assembly line of bundling. His own children were among the volunteers.

“What I really love about [Day of Action] personally is that my kids got to be here and volunteer, not just putting things in bags, but knowing this would help benefit moms and new families,” Hatala said.

“I think that this bag is a reminder to some parents, and it’s a mechanism for them to have a book, because maybe that wasn’t on their mind. Carrying a child, you’re probably thinking more about changing diapers and onesies, but this helps make reading a priority.”

Hatala said that even though an infant can’t understand written language, reading aloud to a baby is still beneficial to his or her growing brain.

“My wife and I started reading to our kids even when they were still in the womb,” he said. “We would talk to them in utero. I know there’s only so much you can say to a baby, and when they’re in the womb it can feel kind of silly to do. But teaching and reading are fundamental to who my wife and I are, and doing that had a lot meaning and benefit.”

The baby bundles cost United Way approximately $5 each to fill, but the items were purchased through sponsorships from the Dansby Grant Foundation, Wells Fargo Bank, Junior League of Bryan/College Station, Texas A&M Mays Business School and the Bryan school district.

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