Volunteers from the Village Improvement Association of the Rehoboth Beach International Outreach Committee recently drove a truck loaded with donations to Operation Smile’s global headquarters in Virginia Beach.
Mary J. Sparks said she had delivered 15 boxes of blankets, hospital gowns, smile bags and bag contents for children who have operations to correct facial deformities. When the four VIA women delivered the boxes, a stunned warehouse manager said, “This isn’t our usual delivery!” Well, these are not ordinary women.
Sparks and his committee members set up the VIA clubhouse as a production room and summoned more than 50 women to make kits for children. Using donated materials and motifs, they measured, cut, tied, sewn and knitted for nearly 500 hours in four months to put gifts together. Then they packed 117 blankets, 23 knitted Afghans, 24 hospital gowns, 44 smile bags full of post-surgical essentials and hundreds of other supplies, and loaded April Irelan’s truck with the finished products. In October Sparks, Irelan, Sharon Ferrara and Nancy Cirelli took off for Virginia Beach.
Operation Smile repairs the clefts or gaps in a baby’s mouth that do not close during the early stages of pregnancy. As a result, babies born with a cleft condition may have an opening in the lip or roof of the mouth – or both. Every three minutes, a baby is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. Each year, around 175,000 children are from all over the world. Without corrective surgery, up to nine out of 10 babies born with these conditions could die.
Operation Smile carries out its missions in low and middle income countries, where it can take years for children to receive care. With donated funds and supplies, this volunteer-based charity offers free surgery on the cleft lip and palate for children and young people around the world.
Although cleft conditions, or orofacial defects, are one of the four most common birth defects in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most cleft are repaired during early childhood in the United States. Children affected in other countries are not lucky, and most of the children who qualify for the intervention come from families with extremely limited resources. They often arrive without even a change of clothing or supplies suitable for surgery and recovery. This is the gap that VIA volunteers have decided to close. And the committee has already begun to collect materials for the next delivery.